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Text: Albert Kostenevich 

Baseline Co Ltd 
127-129A Nguyen Hue 
Fiditourist, 3rd floor 
District 1 , Ho Chi Minh-City 

© Parkstone Press International, New York, 2005 
© Confidential Concepts, worldwide, USA, 2005 

© Estate Bonnard / Artists Rights Society, New York, USA / AD AGP, Paris 
© Estate Vuillard / Artists Rights Society, New York, USA / AD AGP, Paris 
© Estate Roussel / Artists Rights Society, New York, USA / AD AGP, Paris 
© Estate Denis / Artists Rights Society, New York, USA / AD AGP, Paris 
© Estate Picasso / Artists Rights Society, New York, USA / Picasso 
© Estate Matisse / Artists Rights Society, New York, USA / Les Heritiers 

ISBN 978-1-78042-963-2 

All rights reserved 

No part of this publication may be reproduced or adapted without the permission of 
the copyright holder, throughout the world. Unless otherwise specified, copyrights 
on the works reproduced lie with the respective photographers. Despite intensive 
research, it has not always been possible to establish copyright ownership. Where 
this is the case we would appreciate notification. 



and the Nabis 


Pierre Bonnard 





The Nabis 


Edouard Vuillard 


Ker Xavier Roussel 


Maurice Denis 


Felix Vallotton 












I n October 1947, the Musee de l’Orangerie arranged a large 
posthumous exhibition of Bonnard’s work. Towards the close of the 
year, an article devoted to this exhibition appeared on the first page 
of the latest issue of the authoritative periodical Cahiers d'Art. The 
publisher, Christian Zervos, gave his short article the title “Pierre 
Bonnard, est-il un grand peintre?” (Is Pierre Bonnard a Great Artist?) In 
the opening paragraph Zervos remarked on the scope of the exhibition, 
since previously Bonnard’s work could be judged only from a small 
number of minor exhibitions. But, he went on, the exhibition had 
disappointed him: the achievements of this artist were not sufficient for 
a whole exhibition to be devoted to his work. “Let us not forget that the 
early years of Bonnard’s career were lit by the wonderful light of 
Impressionism. In some respects he was the last bearer of that aesthetic. 
But he was a weak bearer, devoid of great talent. That is hardly 
surprising. Weak-willed, and insufficiently original, he was unable to 
give a new impulse to Impressionism, to place a foundation of 
craftsmanship under its elements, or even to give Impressionism a new 
twist. Though he was convinced that in art one should not be guided by 
mere sensations like the Impressionists, he was unable to infuse spiritual 
values into painting. He knew that the aims of art were no longer those 
of recreating reality, but he found no strength to create it, as did other 
artists of his time who were lucky enough to rebel against Impressionism 
at once. In Bonnard’s works Impressionism becomes insipid and falls 
into decline.” 1 It is unlikely that Zervos was guided by any personal 
animus. He merely acted as the mouthpiece of the avant-garde, with its 
logic asserting that all the history of modern art consisted of radical 
movements which succeeded one another, each creating new worlds less 
and less related to reality. The history of modern art seen as a chronicle 
of avant-garde movements left little space for Bonnard and other artists 
of his kind. Bonnard himself never strove to attract attention and kept 
away altogether from the raging battles of his time. Besides, he usually 
did not stay in Paris for any length of time and rarely exhibited his work. 
Of course, not all avant-garde artists shared Zervos’s opinions. Picasso, 
for example, rated Bonnard’s art highly in contrast to his own admirer 
Zervos, who had published a complete catalogue of his paintings and 
drawings. When Matisse set eyes on that issue of Cahiers d’Art, he flew 
into a rage and wrote in the margin in a bold hand: “Yes! I maintain that 
Bonnard is a great artist for our time and, naturally, for posterity. Henri 
Matisse, Jan. 1948.” 2 Matisse was right. By the middle of the century 
Bonnard’s art was already attracting young artists far more than was the 
case in, say, the 1920s or in the 1930s. Fame had dealt strangely with 
Bonnard. He managed to establish his reputation immediately. He never 
experienced poverty or rejection unlike the leading figures of new 

Pierre Bonnard 
est-il un grand peintre 

Juaqu’ici il etait difficile de fornuitayAm point du 
vue sur les peinturcsde Bonnard. eonnue* sculcmcnt 
par des expositions d'import.incc limitic. 1. 'im- 
pression qu'on cn rccevait uhaque fois ctait trop frag 
mentairt* pour qu'on cn vint a a border ces peint tires 
de plain-pied et cn connaitrc les elevations et les 

La riccntc exposition de I'ensemble dcs recher- 
che* dc Bonnard, organist par le Musee de 1'Oran- 
gcric, fait sortir son teuvre dcs raccourcis qui flatten! 
davantage et n'en laisac plus ricn ignorer. 

Je dirai en conscience que cettr exposition m’a 
liien desappointc. Elle ne repondait pas a I'attcnte 
que donnait la renomttiee de Partistc. Je l'avoue, 
il m'cat impossible de passer par ccttc admiration 
et de consentir ft celui-ri nc fut-ce qu’une petite 
pan dc lu reverence qu'il inspire. 

Peut-elre suis-je portc a lui trop refuser. Cc ne 
serait pus, sans doutc, se montrer juste enverx ltd 
que d’ouhlier quelques Iteiireux mouvenients dans 
sex tableaux, muis cc Mint dcs mmivements si 
aecondairca qu'ils uutoriRcnt la querclle que nous 
lui faisons. Je pensc aussi, quYn naant dc severite 
covers un Ituinme qui n'a pas su marquer lui temps 
dccisif de refm me artistique, on arrivernit a modifier 
ccrtuincs opinions susceptihlcs de jeter I'art dans 
dcs chemins dc traverse. 

Qui voudruit d'aillcnrs suivre Bonnard en martin- 
et cn effort sur lui-mcmc, preciser les points ct les 
temps esscnticls dc son reuvre, etablir le bilan de sa 
contribution it I’art contemporain et de w qu’ellc a 
vainement essayc d’y imrodulrc, revenir longucment 
sur les litres dc ses peinturca selon les apcrr,-us tl’un 
urdre eleve et sans fiechir sur les donnecs capitalcs 
de Lcsthctique accucllc, qui a remis cn jeu mutes les 
questions d’ari et ne con^oil aucune limits a son 
essor ; celui-la serait fortement surpris de la vrande 
fortune dont eetle ivtivrc jjotiil depuis qi^l* 


A plus forte /aisnn sc sentirai^troublc et 
astreint it <51cvcr sun veto contre les peinturcs dc 
Bonnard, eclui qui a pour mission d’accucillir Ics 
ucuvrcs d'art, d'apprecier les instincts qui s'v 
excrccnt et d'en evalucr la profondcur et l'etenduc. . 

II n’y u rien dc plus dccisif pour cclaircir le genre U 
ct le degre d'ohjection que je lui fids, que d'indiqucij / , 
sa place entre l'imprcssinnnisme sur sa fin ct larC/ 
nouvcllc generation, parvettuc depuis a un prodi- 
gieux triomphe, ct de rendre clairc sa position dans ^ 

I'cntrc-deux dc ces tendances. 

Bonnard, nc 1'ouhlinns pas, a v6cu ses premieres 
armies de travail sous le beau rayon dc Limprcs- 
sionnisme. II fut en quelque sorte le dernier orgnne 
assimilatcur de eetle estMtiqnc. Mais ce fut un 
organe si faible qu'il n’en a jamais rccueilli la vcinc 

Pent on s'en 6tonncr ? Depourvu de nerf et faihlc- ( 

ment original, il ctait impuissant il donner de Lessor j j f - 
a Limprcsxionnisine, un tiansfuser Ic sang dans line j/ 1 “* y - 
longue neuve, renicttre sea elements sur le metic$r 



ou, ii la rigucur, les tnurncr a ncuf. Bien qu'il soit / j 
doit plus considirer la pcinture / 

b.. i ! Llon ill rcp.i y/j 

/eut pid lairc intervemr / 
utU'ertaiQTqu'il lies'agit plus 

♦ Bonnard around 1890. Photo taken by Alfred Natanson. 

♦ Article by Christian Zervos, Cahiers d’Art, 1947. Annotated by Matisse, January 1948. Private Collection. 



♦ Pierre Bonnard, The Croquet Game, 1892. Oil on canvas, 130 x 162 cm, Musee d’Orsay, Paris. 



painting who were recognized only late in life or posthumously — the 
usual fate of avant-garde artists in the first half of the twentieth century. 
The common concept of peintre mandit (the accursed artist), a Bohemian 
pauper who is not recognized and who readily breaks established 
standards, does not apply to Bonnard. His paintings sold well. Quite 
early in his career he found admirers, both artists and collectors. 
However, they were not numerous. General recognition, much as he 
deserved it, did not come to him for a considerable time. Why was it that 
throughout his long life Bonnard failed to attract the public sufficiently? 
Reasons may be found in his nature and his way of life. Bonnard rarely 
appeared in public, even avoiding exhibitions. For example, when the 
Salon d’Automne expressed a desire in 1946 to arrange a large 
retrospective exhibition of his work, Bonnard responded to this idea in 
the following way: “A retrospective exhibition? Am I dead then?” 
Another reason lay in Bonnard’s art itself: not given to striking effects, it 
did not evoke an immediate response in the viewer. The subtleties of his 
work called for an enlightened audience. There is one further reason for 
the public’s cool attitude towards Bonnard. His life was very ordinary; 
there was nothing in it to attract general interest. In this respect, it could 
not be compared with the life of Van Gogh, Gauguin or Toulouse- 
Lautrec. Bonnard’s life was not the stuff legends are made of. And a nice 
legend is what is needed by the public, which easily creates idols of those 
to whom it was indifferent or even hostile only the day before. But time 
does its work. The attitude towards Bonnard’s art has changed noticeably 
in recent years. The large personal exhibitions which took place in 1984- 
85 in Paris, Washington, Zurich and Frankfurt-am-Main had 
considerable success and became important cultural events. What was 
Pierre Bonnard’s life like? He spent his early youth at Fontenay-aux- 
Roses near Paris. His father was a department head at the War Ministry, 
and the family hoped that Pierre would follow in his father’s footsteps. 
His first impulse, born of his background, led him to the Law School, but 
it very soon began to wane. He started visiting the Academie Julian and 
later the Ecole des Beaux-Arts more often than the Law School. The 
cherished dream of every student of the Ecole was the Prix de Rome. 
Bonnard studied at the Ecole for about a year and left it when he failed 
to win the coveted prize. His Triumph of Mordecai, a picture on a set sub- 
ject which he submitted for the competition, was not considered to be 
serious enough. Bonnard’s career as an artist began in the summer of 
1888 with small landscapes painted in a manner which had little in 
common with the precepts of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. They were 
executed at Grand-Lemps in the Dauphine. Bonnard’s friends — 
Serusier, Denis, Roussel and Vuillard — thought highly of these works. 
Made in the environs of Grand-Lemps, the studies were simple and fresh 
in colour and betrayed a poetic view of nature reminiscent of Corot’s. 
Dissatisfied with the teaching at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and at the 
Academie Julian, Bonnard and Vuillard continued their education 
independently. They zealously visited museums. During the first ten years 
of their friendship, hardly a day went by when they did not see each other. 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, Andree Bonnard with her Dogs, 1890. Oil on canvas, 
180 x 80 cm, Private Collection. 



♦ Pierre Bonnard, France-Champagne, 1891. Lithograph in 3 colours, 78 x 50 cm, Musee de Reims. 



PARait cma9<j£ aioiS 

fr j * r ' BUtlAVlx 1 r-U.ff.fl>. 

en VeNTC PA^to«T 

L A Revue 

'»•(! < 

I MV*. I! 

***** I ffVv* b 

tlM.W | l j * I ^ 
T | > J- 

< v..,s, i 


Vfiarl I 

I **•<»• VU«cV| 


*r 'ttf** 

//nr,.- tdw.Ancourt pwi 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, La Revue Blanche, 1894. Lithograph in 4 colours, 80 x 62 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington. 



The Nabis group, assembled by Paul Serusier, was comprised of 
several members from the Academie Julian. In refusing to comply with 
the rules of Impressionism, these artists claimed instead to be largely 
influenced by Gaugin. Their name, derived from the Hebrew Nahbi, 
signifies a prophet or a visionary, thus symbolizing their will to discover 
the sacred nature of writing. They were largely influenced by Japanese 
art, most notably wood engravings, as well as popular and primitive art 
and the art of the symbolic artist, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes. Although 
they all differed considerably from one another, there were two lines of 
thought in particular on which they all agreed; firstly, subjective 
misinterpretation, born within the artist’s emotions accentuating certain 
aspects of the subject that is being depicted, and secondly, objective 
misinterpretation ensuring the depiction finds its place in the 
fundamental order of the work. Their art is characterized by an absence 
of perspective and the use of pure tones and shades. They would all 
attempt to overcome the barrier between easel painting and decorative 
art, experimenting with illustration, wallpaper, stained-glass windows, 
tapestry, furnishings... The Nabis group united artists such as Pierre 
Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard, Felix Ker Xavier Roussel, Georges 
Lacombe, the sculptor Aristide Maillol and even Maurice Denis who 
claimed that, “before a painting is turned into a battle horse, a naked 
woman, or becomes any sort of trivial detail, it is essentially just a flat 
surface covered with colors that are assembled in a certain order.”And 
yet they addressed one another with the formal “vous”, while Bonnard 
addressed other members of the Nabi group with “tu”. 

In the 1 890s Bonnard was by no means a recluse. He loved to go for 
long walks with Roussel, even listened with pleasure to Denis’s lengthy 
tirades, although he remained rather taciturn himself. He was sociable in 
the best sense of the word. One of his humorous reminiscent drawings 
(1910) shows the Place Clichy, the centre of the quarter where young 
artists, light-hearted and somewhat Bohemian, usually congregated. 
Bonnard, Vuillard and Roussel are unhurriedly crossing the square. Some 
distance away, Denis is bustling along with a folder under his arm. 
Towards them, from the opposite direction, comes Toulouse-Lautrec, 
swinging a thick walking-stick. Toulouse-Lautrec was well disposed 
towards Bonnard and Vuillard. From time to time he would take their 
paintings, hire a carriage and drive to the art-dealers whom he knew 
personally. It was not easy to get them interested, though. Toulouse- 
Lautrec greatly admired Bonnard’s poster France-Champagne published 
in 1891. Bonnard took the artist to his printer, Ancours, in whose shop 
Toulouse-Lautrec’s Moulin Rouge was printed later the same year 
followed by his other famous posters. The poster France-Champagne , 
commissioned by the wine-dealer Debray in 1889 was to play a special 
role in Bonnard’s life. This work brought him his first emoluments. The 
sum was miserably small compared with the earnings of the then much 
feted artist Jean Meissonnier, but it convinced Bonnard that painting 
could provide him with a living. This small success coincided with failure 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, Portrait of Berthe Schaedlin, 1892. Oil on cardboard, 31 x 16.5 cm, Galerie Daniel Malingue, Paris. 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, Self-Portrait , 1889. Tempera on cardboard, 21.5 x 15.8 cm, Private Collection. 



in his university examinations. Perhaps he was deliberately burning his 
boats, abandoning a career in business for the sake of art. On 9 March 
1891 he wrote to his mother: “I won’t be able to see my poster on the 
walls just yet. It will only appear at the end of the month. But as I finger 
the hundred francs in my pocket, I must admit I feel proud”. 3 

At about the same time he sent five pictures to the Salon des 
Independants. At the close of 1 891 he exhibited his works together with 
Toulouse-Lautrec, Bernard, Anquetin and Denis at Le Bare de 
Boutteville’s. When a journalist from Echo de Paris, who interviewed 
the artists at the exhibition, asked Bonnard to name his favourite 
painters, he declined to do so. He said that he did not belong to any 
school. His idea was to bring off something of his own and he was 
trying to forget all that he had been taught at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. 

One more event in 1891 played an important role in Bonnard’s life. 
The journal Revue Blanche moved its editorial office from Brussels to 
Paris. Bonnard and other members of the Nabi group soon established a 
good relationship with the publisher Thadee Natanson, another former 
student of the Lycee Condorcet. Natanson managed to get the most 

gifted artists, writers and musicians to work for him. The frontispieces 
of the journal were designed by Bonnard and Vuillard; inside there were 
the latest poems of Mallarme, works by Marcel Proust and Strindberg, 
Oscar Wilde and Maxim Gorky; Debussy also contributed. On the pages 
of the Revue Blanche literary critics discussed the works of Leo Tolstoy. 
Natanson himself devoted his first article to Utamaro and Hiroshige. 
Without exaggeration, the Revue Blanche was the best French cultural 
periodical of the 1890s. The atmosphere in its editorial office, which the 
Nabis often visited, was stimulating. Natanson’s personal support for 
the artists was also of no small importance. He was as young as the 
artists whom he backed and was not afraid to follow his own 
inclinations. Even Natanson’s friends later admitted that at times they 
had doubts whether they could trust a person who decorated his home 
with works by Bonnard and Vuillard. 

Natanson’s printed reminiscences of Bonnard give perhaps one of 
the best pen-portraits of the artist. “Bonnard, when 1 first met him, was 
a gaunt young man who sometimes stooped. He had very white slightly 
protruding front teeth, was timid and short-sighted. His dark brown 
rather thin side-whiskers curled slightly; perched on his nose, very close 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, The Life of the painter, Pages from a drawing book. Pencil and fountain pen wash, around 1910. Private Collection. 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, The Bridge, 1896-1897. Lithograph in 4 colours, 27 x 41 cm. 



to his eyes with the dark pupils, was a small pince-nez in an iron frame, 
as was the fashion at the close of the nineteenth century. He spoke little, 
but was always ready to show the portrait of his fat grandmother in 
whose house he lived when he first came to Paris. The portrait had been 
painted in the Dauphine and depicted the old lady with several white 
hens pecking at some feed close to her skirts. My new friend behaved 
in a very guarded manner when it came to discussing theories in 
painting, but he readily spoke about Japanese prints of which he was 
very fond. At that time such a taste could be easily satisfied. He also 
preferred checked fabrics far more than any other kind. His smile, with 
his white teeth showing slightly, was so winning that you wanted to see 
it again and to hold on to it. You wanted to catch the moment when it 
appeared. Bonnard smiled out of politeness, because of his shyness, but 
once he had tamed his smile, so to speak, he was no longer inhibited, 
and it was as if a tensioned spring had unwound... Bonnard hardly 
changed from the early days of our friendship. He rarely livened up, 
even more rarely expressed his mind openly, avoiding any possible 
chance of letting his feelings come out into the open.” 4 

“He was the humorist among us,” Lugne-Poe recalled. “His light- 
hearted jollity and wit can be seen in his canvases”. 5 “Wonderfully 
gifted, but too intelligent to let us feel his superiority, he was able to 
hide the spark of genius within him,” 6 was Verkade’s recollection of 
him. Bonnard’s humour was perhaps not always taken as harmless. The 
Russian artist Alexander Benois said that his acquaintance with the 
painter in the late 1 890s was short-lived because Bonnard’s specifically 
French esprit gouaillear (mocking wit) made him feel ill at ease. 7 But 
Benois’s reaction is exceptional. There was nothing of the born joker 
about Bonnard, and as he grew older he became increasingly reserved, 
even somewhat distrustful of others. In fact, throughout his life, even 
when he was a member of the Nabi group, he required the company of 
others less than his own; or rather what he needed was to be left alone 
with his art. Natanson was right when he said that Bonnard’s 
misanthropy sprang from his innate kindness. 8 But even in his youth 
Bonnard was probably a more complex personality than he seemed to 
his friends. His reserve and reticence hid traits which one could hardly 
suspect. In his self-portrait painted in 1889 (Private Collection, Paris) 
we see not a light-minded wit, but a watchful, diffident young man. The 
still eyes hide thoughts one does not usually share with others. His 
acquaintances saw him as a fine, jolly fellow. And that was true enough. 
But was that all? With age, other hidden features of his nature became 
more evident. At thirty, when Benois met him, he was a different man 
from the one he was at the age of twenty: he was less light-hearted and 
showed less desire to surprise with paradoxes. So many of his early 
compositions were deliberately paradoxical. 

In 1891 Bonnard told a correspondent from the Echo de Paris that 
painting should be predominantly decorative, that the disposition of lines 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, The Little Laundry Girl, 1896. Lithograph in 5 colours, 30 x 19 cm, Paris, National Library. 



revealed true talent. Three or four years later he began to move away 
from intricate decorative effects and deliberate complexity towards a 
greater liberation of colour and a living texture in painting, as well as 
towards its inner integrity. This was a turning point in his career, but it 
did not occur suddenly. Changes in Bonnard’s painterly manner 
accumulated gradually, and for this reason it is impossible to draw a 
dividing line between one period and another. But changes did take 
place. When looking at a picture executed in the new manner, one cannot 
help feeling that it is not so much a different picture as the earlier one 
transformed, but that the newer picture represents a deeper 

understanding of what the artist was doing before. While developing his 
talent, Bonnard at the same time remained true to himself. Bonnard’s 
invariable loyalty to himself and to his views on life is always expressed 
in his art. Throughout the sixty years of his career he remained true to the 
subjects of his youth, but none of his works is mere dreary repetition. His 
artistic individuality is easily recognizable in each new work. 

Bonnard’s intonations often have humorous overtones. Benois saw 
this as the source of the superficiality for which he reproached the 
artist.’ There might have been an element of truth in this, if Bonnard’s 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, The Children’s Lunch, c. 1906. Oil on wood 27 x 33,5 cm, Nancy, Musee des Beaux-Arts. 


humour were present in all circumstances. But he used humour only 
when he wanted to avoid the direct expression of emotions. In a way, 
his special form of tact was akin to that of Chekhov. Though there was 
never any personal contact between these two men, they had much in 
common. Bonnard always added a touch of humour when he depicted 
children. The ploy reliably protected him against the excessive 
sentimentality often observed in this genre. 

Bonnard had no children of his own. For many years he led a 
bachelor’s life. This seemed not to worry him in the least. If, however, 
one looks at his works as a kind of diary, a rather different picture 
emerges. In the 1890s- 1900s he often depicted scenes of quiet domestic 
bliss. These scenes — the feeding of a baby, children bathing, playing 
or going for walks, a comer of a garden, a cosy interior — are both 

poignant and amusing. Of course, these aspects of life attracted the 
other Nabis, too, which was in keeping with the times. But in Bonnard’s 
work these motifs are not treated with stressed indifference, as in 
Vallotton’s. Bonnard does not conceal the fact that he finds them 
attractive. Yet it is not easy to discern a longing for family life in his 
work. One might suggest it but without much confidence. Bonnard 
seems to remind himself, as always with humour, that family life is 
undoubtedly emotionally pleasant, but there is much in it that is 
monotonous and even absurd — a truly Chekhovian attitude. The many 
commonplace situations treated on account of banality with a degree of 
humour are summed up in the monumental portrait of the Terrasse 
family, a work unprecedented in European art. Bonnard gave the picture 
the title The Terrasse Family (L Apres-midi bourgeoise). It was painted in 
1900 and is now in the Bernheim-Jeune collection in Paris (another 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, The Terrasse Family (L’apres-midi bourgeoise), 1900. Oil on canvas, 139 x 212 cm, Musee d’Orsay, Paris. 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, The Red Garters, c. 1905. Oil on canvas, 61 x 50 cm, Private Collection. 




♦ Pierre Bonnard, Indolence, c. 1899. Oil on canvas, 92 x 108 cm, Private collection. 



♦ Pierre Bonnard, The Siesta, 1900. Oil on canvas, 109 x 132 cm, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. 



version is in the Stuttgart State Gallery). The title parodies Mallarme’s 
eclogue L'Apres-midi d’un fame. The artist had affection for his 
characters and not only because they were his relatives (Bonnard’s sister 
Andree was married to the composer Claude Terrasse). Yet he depicted 
the dozen or so of them in an ironical parade of provincial idleness, in 
all its grandeur and its absurdity. 

Around the same time Bonnard painted his Man and Woman (1900, 
Musee d’Orsay, Paris), a work with a psychological dramatism quite 
unexpected for the artist. The psychological aspect of the work is not a 
piece of fiction or illustration of the then fashionable subject of the 
conflict between the sexes; it is a self-portrait of the artist with Marthe, 
his constant companion and model, in every respect a deeply personal 
work. Of course, this painting is not typical of Bonnard: there is no 
irony here; we are witnessing a dramatic episode easily identified as 
biographical. Both this work and the portrait of the Terrasse family are 
worthy of attention, because they show Bonnard not only as a subtle 
painter but also as a very complex personality. Meeting Marthe brought 
many changes to Bonnard’s life. This girl, who had come to Paris in 
search of work and a new life, did not belong to the same social milieu 
as Bonnard, and in comparison with him and his friends she was 
practically uneducated. Yet she became the artist’s muse. In her 
Bonnard found an inexhaustible source of inspiration. She did not sit 
specially for him, and “there was no need for this because she was 
constantly with him. Her movements flowed out of one another with a 
naturalness that can be neither learnt nor forgotten. Some of Bonnard’s 
most brilliant pictures were prompted by some pose of her body which 
he had noticed.” 10 The presence of Marthe, the mistress of the house, is 
unexpectedly revealed in Mirror in the Dressing-Room, now in the 
Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow. In the mirror we can see the 
reflection of a small room in which Marthe is drinking coffee, 
completely ignoring the model who is in the act of removing her 
clothes. They say that it was Bonnard’s wife who compelled him to lead 
a secluded life, striving by one means or another to keep him away from 
his friends and from Paris. With the years she indeed became an 
intolerable person. But there is no evidence that Bonnard ever 
complained or expressed dissatisfaction. He was a patient man, and his 
love was a wise one. Perhaps he lacked firmness of character. “He was 
always afraid of her, her tactless behaviour,” Matisse recalled. “She 
tried to cut him off from everyone. True, she received me, saying, ‘Oh, 
Matisse is only concerned with his painting.’ 1 suppose she thought 1 
wasn’t dangerous.” 11 Bonnard’s friends were definitely convinced that 
he was under Marthe ’s thumb. But in actual fact he submitted himself 
to the imperatives of his art and Marthe never infringed upon them. He 
found it convenient to live in rural solitude and devote all his time to his 
work. After the First World War, if he visited Paris at all, he never spent 
more than two months in any year in the capital. “1 go there to see 
what’s happening, to compare my painting with that of other artists. In 

Paris 1 am a critic, I can’t work there. There is too much noise, too many 
distractions. I know that other artists become accustomed to that kind of 
life. 1 find it difficult.” 12 Bonnard had indeed changed; he seemed to 
have forgotten what fascination the rush and bustle of Paris had once 
held for him. Bonnard visited many foreign countries, but his travels left 
no noticeable traces in his art, which had grown on French soil, in a 
French atmosphere. Paris and the Ile-de-France, Normandy, the 
Dauphine, and the Cote d’Azur were places where Bonnard worked. In 
summer he usually went to some little town or village in one of these 
French provinces. He was particularly fond of Vernon and Le Cannet. 
Bonnard was an artist of unusual integrity. A scholar attempting to 
divide his work into periods would find himself faced with a formidable 
task. His early works are marked by a deliberate decorativeness, while 
towards the close of his life his paintings become more expressive; at 
times this expressiveness is accompanied by dramatic overtones. 
However, it is impossible to establish a point when one tendency 
exhausted itself and another became a dominant feature of his art. One 
is forced inevitably to the conclusion that the whole of Bonnard’s 
enormous legacy constitutes a single period. 13 The works painted 
between 1888 and 1890, about 15 in all (earlier works have not come 
down to us), already clearly indicate which genres the artist preferred: 
landscapes, still lifes and portraits. They also include his panel The 
Dressing Gown (1889, Musee d’Orsay, Paris), which is as decorative as 
a textile, and spontaneous, lively compositions containing human 
figures — the type favoured by the Impressionists. An example of the 
latter is Street (1889, Milliner collection, Paris), the first of the artist’s 
small genre scenes set in Paris, each of which is unique in its own way. 
This picture is the prototype for Morning in Paris and Evening in Paris, 
paintings now in the Hermitage. 

Street and another painting of this period, Woman in the Garden 
(Private Collection, Paris), show that Bonnard not only was well 
acquainted with Impressionism, but he ventured into its territory as a 
polemist rather than a timid pupil: here characteristic Impressionist 
motifs are treated in a far from Impressionistic manner. It was only a 
short time before Bonnard painted these pictures that the Nabis 
learned the lesson taught by Gauguin. However, Bonnard and Vuillard 
with him were influenced to a lesser degree by Gauguin than their 
companions. While sharing Gauguin’s opposition to Renoir, Pissarro 
and Raffaelli, Bonnard and Vuillard drew support not from Gauguin, 
but from oriental art, mainly from Japanese prints. French artists had 
become interested in Japanese art even before Bonnard was born. The 
influence may be traced in Manet’s work and particularly in all the 
early works of the Impressionists. Originally it was no more than a 
taste for the exotic, but in the latter part of the 1880s this interest 
became more profound, and France was swept by a real wave of 
enthusiasm for Japanese art. Comparing French paintings of that 
period with Japanese prints, art historians have discovered that Monet, 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, Nude with Black Stockings, c. 1900. Oil on panel, 59 x 43 cm, Private Collection, on loan to City of Sheffield Art Galleries. 


♦ Pierre Bonnard, Man and Woman, 1900. Oil on canvas, 115 x 72 cm, Musee d’Orsay, Paris. 


Degas, Redon, Gauguin, Seurat, Signac and others borrowed both 
motifs and elements of composition from these prints. Van Gogh 
painted his own versions of Japanese prints. He even went to Provence 
hoping to find a second Japan there. To one degree or another, all the 
Nabis used devices prompted by Japanese woodcuts. Yet it was no 
coincidence that one of them was singled out for the nickname “the 
Highly Nipponised Nabi” (Nabi Tres Japonard). It is quite reasonable 
to link Bonnard’s early urban scenes, including his Street, and the 
works not only of the Impressionists, but also of Japanese artists — all 
the more so because the Impressionists themselves had been in- 
fluenced by Japanese art. A painter of the city, Bonnard undoubtedly 
owed a debt to Hiroshige and Kiyonaga. 

Japanese prints were by no means a rarity in Paris when Bonnard 
studied at the Academie Julian and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. One 
exhibition of Japanese art was held at the Ecole itself in 1890 and there 
can be little doubt that Bonnard was among its most frequent visitors. 
Japanese prints were cheap enough for Bonnard and his companions to 
be able to buy the odd one. Naturally, these were the latest impressions 
which differed considerably from the originals. In his old age Matisse 
would recall: “I knew the Japanese only from copies and prints of poor 
quality which could be bought in the Rue de Seine by the entrance of 
the shops selling engravings. Bonnard said that he did the same and 
added that he was rather disappointed when he saw the originals. This 
may be explained by foxiness and faded colours of the early print-runs. 
Perhaps if we had seen the originals first, we would not have been as 
impressed as by the later prints.” 14 

“When I came upon these somewhat crude popular pictures,” 
Bonnard said, “I realised that colour could express anything without 
resort to relief or modelling. It seemed to me that one could render light, 
shape, typical properties by colour alone, dispensing with values.” 15 In 
order to understand Bonnard’s first creative endeavours, it is essential to 
know that he, like the other members of the Nabi group, considered 
Japanese prints to be examples of folk art. At that time, he thought of 
creating not masterpieces for museums but popular art suitable for 
reproduction; in other words, something that was to an extent mass art. 
“During that period I myself shared the opinion that artists should 
produce works which the general public could afford and which would 
be of use in everyday life: prints, furniture, fans, screens and so on.” 16 

Only a few of Bonnard’s undertakings in the field of applied arts 
actually came to fruition. Among them were a stained-glass panel called 
Motherhood, which Tiffany’s made from his cartoon, several screens, 
some of them painted, others decorated with colour lithographs. These 
screens and the design for a small cupboard with figures of two frisky 
dogs — probably Bonnard’s only attempt to try his hand at furniture — 
clearly reveal a Japanese influence. Japanese prototypes are also in 
evidence in Bonnard’s lithographs. Even his earliest print A Family 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, The Dressing Gown, c. 1890. Oil on quilted canvas, 
154 x 54 cm, Paris, Musee d’Orsay. 


Scene (1893) immediately brings to mind Utamaro, Sharaku and 
Kunisada. The works of these Japanese artists taught Bonnard the kind 
of stark simplicity and refinement that he could never have acquired at 
the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Above all, they taught him to abandon the 
ideas of perspective, he had been taught to be bold in composition, to 
build up his picture as an arrangement of flat silhouettes, to appreciate 
the expressive power of a generalized patch of colour, at times 
unexpectedly giving close-up views and at times, on the contrary, 
arranging the composition in a frieze-like manner. The free and at the 
same time energetic use of colour in Japanese woodcuts also brought 
Europe much, both in graphic art and in painting. “As for painting,” 
Bonnard wrote to Suares, “I learned a lot working in colour lithography. 
You discover a great deal when you explore the relationship between 
different tones, with only four or five colours at your disposal, placing 
them next to or over one another.” 17 

Incidentally, even before Bonnard turned to lithography, he tried to 
make do with a limited number of colours, applying them in a flat man- 
ner. The most telling example of this practice is The Parade Ground 
(1890, Private Collection, Paris). It would be hard to find a small 
painting in the battle genre to match this picture for richness of colour 
and decorativeness, although the work both belongs to and, with its 
Japanese features, parodies the genre. 

With time the colours in Bonnard’s paintings became more and more 
subdued. To some extent this was probably due to his work in 
lithography. By the middle of the 1890s the artist obviously began to 
prefer colour combinations in which grey and brown tones 
predominated. Vuillard was moving in the same direction. 

A typical example of this manner is Bonnard’s Behind the Fence 
(1895, Hermitage, St Petersburg). What is particularly interesting about 
this picture? It does not depict an amusing incident; the fine 
draughtsmanship is absent. We see some very ordinary brown-coloured 
houses, dark winter tree-trunks, and a monotonous fence running across 
the whole composition. The viewer does not immediately notice behind 
this fence the solitary figure of a woman, who for some unknown reason 
has come out into the cold. Only the white splotches of snow which has 
just fallen and is already beginning to melt enliven the scene that does 
not catch the eye at all. Has this woman come out to call in a child still 
playing in the gathering twilight? Perhaps. She is not dressed to go far 
in such weather. But all these thoughts are unlikely to enter the viewer’s 
mind. The painting is too generalized to enable us to read something in 
the woman’s face. The main thing is, however, that the artist does not 
assert that the scene he presents has some kind of narrative to it. It is just 
an unassuming corner in the outskirts of Paris made beautiful by the 
subdued colouring of the picture, with its shimmering grey tones. 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, Nursemaids’ Promenade, Frieze of Carriages , 1894. 
Tempera on canvas, 147 x 54 cm each panel, Private Collection. 




♦ Pierre Bonnard, The Tugboat on the Seine, 1911. Oil on canvas, 49 x 53 cm 



Although Bonnard’s painting lacks bright colour accents, it is 
nevertheless highly decorative. This effect is primarily achieved by the 
fence with its diagonal lines. As early as the 1890s the artist was fond 
of compositions where prominence was given to grids of lines crossing 
at right angles. Usually this is seen in a woman’s dress, sometimes in a 
scarf. (Let us recall that Natanson specially noted Bonnard’s love of 
check fabrics). The artist’s innate talent as a decorator revealed itself 
above all in the way he carefully managed tension in a picture, skilfully 
alternating active, checked areas with calm, empty spaces. Art 
historians often look on the use of checked areas in Bonnard’s early 
work as an extreme manifestation of his Japanism. We can, indeed, find 
something similar in Japanese prints, but the artist did not invent 
ornaments, rather he was stimulated when in the real world he came 
across the things he liked. (His sister Andree also loved check fabrics: 
the pattern of her tartan dress, in which blue and red predominated, 
determines the main colour characteristics of a whole painting.) There 
should be no doubt that the very ordinary fence depicted in the picture 
Behind the Fence really existed. “You know, there is nothing in 
Bonnard’s work that has not come from observation,” Natanson noted. 18 

The middle of the 1890s saw a gradual change in Bonnard’s art. 
Having begun as a convinced Post-Impressionist he now moved closer 
to the Impressionists, above all to Degas. In 1894 he painted a series of 
pictures devoted to horse-racing; in 1 896 he turned to scenes in cafes and 
portrayed ballet-dancers; in 1897 he produced several circus scenes. The 
influence of Degas is evident in all these works. Bonnard did not reject 
the conventions of Japanese art, but adapted them to serve his own 
purposes: in his increasingly more realistic approach to the object of 
representation, his rendering of light, air and the depth of space. Pissarro, 
who had expressed dissatisfaction with Bonnard’s early work, now 
voiced a different opinion in a letter to his son. In 1 898 Bonnard received 
a letter from Renoir following the publication of Peter Nansen’s novel 
Marie. Renoir expressed his admiration for Bonnard’s illustrations for 
the book: “You possess the gift of charming. Do not neglect it. You will 
come across more powerful painters, but your gift is precious.” 19 When 
staying in the south, Bonnard made a point of visiting Cagnes to call on 
the old master. The little painting with a dedication, which Renoir gave 
him, was Bonnard’s pride and one of his most cherished possessions. 
When Bonnard moved to Vernon, he struck up a closer acquaintance 
with Claude Monet who lived in Giverny only a few miles away. 
Bonnard went to Giverny to enjoy Monet’s beautiful garden, to look at 
the landscapes with water lilies on which the leader of the Impressionists 
was then working, and to see again the canvases by Delacroix, Corot, 
Cezanne and Renoir in his collection. From time to time Monet’s car 
drove up to Bonnard’s house called “Ma Roulotte” (my gypsy-wagon). 
Monet wanted to see Bonnard’s latest work. They spoke little, but 
Bonnard was content with a smile or an encouraging gesture from 
Monet. Bonnard continued seeing Monet and Renoir in later years, long 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, Bonnard with Marthe (centre) and Suzanne Bernheim de Villers, c. 1913. Private Collection. 



after these two very discriminating elder masters had recognized their 
younger colleague as a painter of considerable standing. At the turn of 
the century Bonnard seems to have been at a crossroads. He might have 
continued his experiments in decorative painting. He might have 
concentrated his attention on an ironical and psychological approach to 
the subject, not unlike that of Toulouse-Lautrec. (His Terrasse Family 
provides an excellent example of his capacity in that direction.) He might 
have yielded to the temptations of sensual subjects exemplified by the 
series of nudes he painted in 1899-1900. He might have focused on 
portraiture: his few efforts in that line reveal him as an astute student of 
the human soul. In fact, however, most of the works he created at that 
time and in the following decade show no marked preference for any one 
of these traditional genres. Nor do they show any extreme tendency in 
the treatment of the motif whether decorative, naturalistic or 
psychological. Later Bonnard would write to the art critic Georges 
Besson: “I am drifting between the intimate and the decorative.” 20 Only 
a small number of Bonnard’s works produced in the 1980s- 1900s may be 
unreservedly classified as belonging to one particular genre: portrait, 
nude or landscape. His landscapes, for instance, generally contain people 
who are as important a part of the picture as the surrounding scenery. 
Looking at his townscapes one tends to wonder what attracted the artist 
more — the Parisian streets or their colourful crowds. In the majority of 
cases Bonnard does not single out either. The artist treats the streets with 
their specifically Parisian hustle and bustle and wealth of colour as a 
mixture of landscape and genre scene forming a single whole. With 
Bonnard’s indoor scenes, we seem to face the same question. It is far 
from easy to decide whether we are looking at a depiction of a room 
enlivened by the presence of a human figure, or a genre scene where the 
interior serves as a background. 

It was, in fact, quite natural for Bonnard to combine several genres in 
one picture. An excellent example of this is his Mirror in the Dressing- 
Room (Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow). The painting is 
considered a still life, but the elements of interior, portrait and nude are 
stronger than they should be in that case. This places the work in a class 
of its own among European painting of the early twentieth century. 
During this period Bonnard drew noticeably closer to the Impressionists. 
In their works, particularly in Degas’s, he found numerous examples of 
an unorthodox attitude to genres. His affinity with the Impressionists 
expressed itself in the fact that landscape, which always predominated in 
Impressionist art, became an ever more important element of his 
painting. Moreover, it is also important to note that in his landscapes 
Bonnard no longer strove after decorative effect, at least that was no 
longer his main objective. His Landscape in the Dauphine in the 
Hermitage resembles a casual Impressionistic-style “snapshot view”. 
The composition does not appear to follow a preconceived scheme and 
it is easy to imagine how it continues on either side. The painting has 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, The Chequered Blouse, 1892. Oil on canvas, 61 x 33 cm, Musee d’Orsay, Paris. 



none of the earlier flatness; the eye is led far into the distance. The 
landscape, however, lacks the Impressionist luminosity. Unlike the 
Impressionists for whom light was of paramount importance, Bonnard 
valued colour above all. The Landscape in the Dauphine does not attract 
attention immediately. It takes time to appreciate the modest beauty of 
the rather dirty green colours. Bonnard managed to catch the hues of the 
somewhat prosaic Dauphine countryside, seen, as it were, through the 
eyes of a peasant. That is not to say that the treatment of the subject 
reflects the usual aesthetic tastes of peasants, who would probably not 
like the landscape. It is more the psychological aspect, a specific sense 
of place. To some degree, at least, Bonnard perceives the world as it is 
seen by his characters themselves — in the case of this painting by 
peasants working in the fields on a rainy autumn day. 

Another illustration of Bonnard’s ability to look at whatever he was 
depicting through the eyes of his characters is his townscape A Comer 
of Paris. In the centre of the composition is a small group of children out 
for a walk. The ingenuous curiosity and wonder with which they see the 
surrounding world is echoed by the bright posters pasted on a large 
board. The humorous notes discernible in paintings like A Corner of 
Paris are absent in the landscapes containing no human figures, such as 
the two paintings of the Seine near Vernon, one in Moscow, the other in 
St Petersburg. It is noteworthy that landscapes of this type are both more 
lyrical and less decorative. In general, Bonnard’s works are usually 
more decorative when they contain human figures. 

It was when Bonnard was working on his Corner of Paris that the 
Fauves caught the public eye. Bonnard’s paintings were less bright than 
the works of the Impressionists; next to the garish creations of the 
Fauves, constructed on a rolling crescendo of colours, they looked 
utterly faded, even timid. This impression was, of course, deceptive, and 
Matisse, the leader of the Fauves, was well aware of this. But the public 
and even the critics found it difficult to discern the quiet melody of 
Bonnard’s painting among the deafening trumpets of the Fauves. It 
would be wrong to suggest that Bonnard was not influenced at all by 
Henri Matisse and his friends. The Parisian series he produced for Ivan 
Morozov in 1911 was painted in more vivid colours than A Corner of 
Paris. But Bonnard could never have become a follower of Matisse: his 
temperament and the circumstances of his artistic development, very 
different from those of the Fauves, precluded that. 

It was not only Bonnard’s tendency to approach his subject 
intimately that made him reject the scarcity of artistic means to which 
Matisse and Picasso had come in the first decade of the twentieth 
century and which had brought them world-wide recognition as the 
trend-setters in contemporary art. Bonnard did not consider 
Impressionism entirely passe, yet he wrote, “When my friends and I 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, Family Scene, 1893. Colour lithograph, 31x18 cm. Hermitage, St. Petersburg. 



decided to follow the Impressionists, attempting to develop their 
achievements, we strove to overcome their naturalistic conception of 
colour. Art is not copying nature. We were more mindful of com- 
position. We felt that colour should be used more effectively as a means 
of expression. But artistic development had gained such momentum that 
society was ripe to accept Cubism and Surrealism long before we had 
achieved our goal. We found ourselves in an uncertain position.” 21 

It is hardly surprising that at the beginning of the twentieth century the 
young artists who joined the avant-garde considered the work of Bonnard 
and other artists of his circle rather old-fashioned and dull. They were 
completely overwhelmed by Matisse’s Red Room and The Dance and by 
Picasso’s Cubist experiments. Bonnard’s Mirror in the Dressing-Room was 

painted at the time when Matisse and Picasso were creating some of their 
famous still lifes, including Picasso’s Composition with a Skull, now in the 
Hermitage collection, and Matisse’s Red Room, which is halfway to being 
a still life. Comparing all these works, one is bound to appreciate 
Matisse’s and Picasso’s unusual boldness, yet one is also sure to realise 
how much painting would have lost without Bonnard, already outside the 
mainstream of artistic development. 

Mirror in the Dressing-Room is a wonderful illustration of how 
Bonnard used the lessons learned from the Impressionists, and from 
Degas in particular. At the same time it exemplifies the complete 
subordination of Impressionistic elements to a deeply individual and in 
essence non-lmpressionistic conception. It would hardly be justified to 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, The Parade Ground, 1890. Oil on canvas, 23 x 31 cm. Private Collection, Paris. 



♦ Pierre Bonnard, A Barracks Scene, 1890. Oil on canvas, 40.5 x 32.5 cm. Private Collection. 



speak here of the relationship between a pupil and his teachers. Mirror 
in the Dressing-Room clearly shows that structurally Bonnard’s work 
was far more complicated than that of the Impressionists. Never in any 
of their still lifes did the Impressionists use so many motifs as well as 
compositional and spatial devices forming one integral whole; nor did 
they ever place such surprisingly diverse objects in apposition. 

When Impressionism was in its heyday, Renoir painted an unusual 
still life, A Bunch of Flowers in front of a Mirror (1876, Private 
Collection, Paris). Looking at this fleeting vision of bright flowers, one 
finds it difficult to tell which of the two bunches is real; and the painter 
took pleasure in exploiting this effect. In Bonnard’s work the mirror 
plays a different role. It has already been stated that no other feature 
reveals Bonnard’s divergence from the Impressionists as clearly as his 
fondness for using a mirror in his compositions. 22 The rectangle of the 
mirror breaks the surface of the wall in practically the same way as an 
open window. Compositions containing open windows, so beloved of 
the Romantics, are easily understood. An open window leads the eye 
into the depths, giving added impetus to the view, while a mirror seems 
to cast the eye back into the space behind the viewer. The viewer feels 
himself to be not in front of the scene, but inside it. It takes some time 
to comprehend the relative positions of all the elements in the 
composition: those reflected in the mirror and thus behind the viewer, 
and those which are beside the mirror and hence facing the viewer. 

A human presence is sensed in Bonnard’s still lifes even when they 
contain no human figure. But the most important detail of the Moscow 
still life is the fact that the mirror — in the centre of the composition, 
and also its brightest spot — reflects the model and the artist’s wife 
unconcernedly drinking her coffee. Thus this still life does not merely 
represent various toilet paraphernalia, but tells the viewer something 
about the artist, whose studio and living-room were one and whose 
creative activity was more than just a job of work. The mirror is an age- 
old element of the vanitas type of still life traditionally linked with the 
motif of a nude figure. Bonnard, however, did not attempt to build up 
an allegory. The mirror gave him an opportunity to correlate the details 
reflected in it (his wife Marthe, the cup in her hand, the model) with the 
various articles on the washstand. With this diversity of details, colour 
gains a special significance. Soft, muted tones predominate. On the 
back of the picture Bonnard wrote: “Do not varnish”. The matt effect is 
very important in this picture. Without it the expressive range of bluish- 
grey tones would have lost its wonderful subtlety and richness. It is 
colour that ennobles articles in Bonnard’s still life. Natanson recollected 
that Bonnard took great delight in watching reflections in a mirror as it, 
“like him, gave its caress to objects”. 23 

The Moscow still life belongs to a series of ten pictures painted by 
Bonnard over a span of eight years. In the first two canvases — Girl 

* Edgar Degas, Mister Perrot’s Dance Lesson , 1873-1875. Oil on canvas, 85 x 75 cm, Musee d’Orsay, Paris. 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, Misia, 1908. Oil on canvas, 145 x 114 cm, Fondagion Coleccion Thessen-Bornemisza, Madrid. 



Drying Herself and The Toilette (1907, Private Collection; D 473, 477) 
— the most important elements are the nude figures, while the 
dressing-table and mirror serve merely as a background. In the next 
picture. Nude against the Light (1908, Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts, 
Brussels), Bonnard depicted a young girl looking at herself in a mirror 
with its “Japanese” frame already familiar from the Moscow still life, 
and the composition is more complicated. The painting may with 
equal justification be regarded as “a nude” or “an interior”, since the 
details of the room are more than merely a background for the figure. 
Together with the girl, they form part of a colourful spectacle. 
Comparing this picture with the Mirror in the Dressing-Room, one can 
understand why Bonnard painted the latter in greyish-blue colours. In 
Nude against the Light a window is seen in the middle, while in Mirror, 
where the same room is depicted, the window takes up only a narrow 
strip of the picture. Consequently all the objects in the first still life, 
the table and the wall with the mirror, are seen in backlighting. A 
further development along these lines may be observed in The Toilette 
(Musee d’Orsay, Paris, D 486), which may be viewed as a preliminary 
version of the Moscow still life. Here Bonnard draws even closer to a 
still life free of the former limitations of the genre. In 1909, 1913 and 
1914 Bonnard again returned to the mirror motif. In the Dressing-Table 
with a Bunch of Red and Yellow Flowers (1913, D 772) the size and the 
basic features of the composition are the same as in the Mirror in the 
Dressing-Room , but the colour scheme determined by the inclusion of 
the flowers is different. The next composition. The Toilette (1914, Art 
Museum, Worcester, Massachusetts), is no longer a still life but a pure 
interior with the same dressing-table. However, the window next to it 
has gone. 

Depicting objects which were always at hand or turning to outdoor 
scenes, Bonnard did not strive to recapture an immediate impression. As 
a rule, he started working on his painting only when such impressions 
had taken root in his mind and passed through the filter of the artist’s 
memory. Feeling no obligation to reproduce an object of his observation 
precisely, he included in his pictures only that aspect of it which could 
be subordinated to the imperatives of art. In this way he made every area 
of his canvases rich in texture and colour. 

The impact Bonnard’s works have on the viewer does not rest solely 
on his ability to reveal the most painterly aspect of an ordinary object, 
but also on the hidden metaphorical and universal meaning of the colours 
he used. For this reason Bonnard never tired of depicting the same 
objects, and turned again and again to the same motifs. Of course, this 
practice never amounted to mere repetition. His way towards revealing 
the beauty inherent in any object lay primarily through the rich 
expressive resources of colour, making a metaphorical link with what is 
precious. Bonnard believed that “a picture is a patchwork of colours 
which when combined with each other, in the final analysis form an 

♦ Henri Matisse, The Red Room, 1908. Oil on canvas, 1 80 x 220 cm, Hermitage, St Petersburg. 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, Child Eating Cherries, 1895. Oil on board, 52 x 41 cm. National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin. 





object in such a way as to allow the eye to glide freely over it without 
encountering obstacles”. 24 Bonnard delighted in walking the tightrope 
between stylised decorative abstraction and unstylised realism. His 
Landscape with a Goods Train (Train and Fishing Boats ) provides a typical 
example. Each detail of the landscape may puzzle the viewer. It takes 
time to identify the tree in the right lower comer for what it is or the 
vineyard on the left. All details are governed by the ensemble of tones. 
That is why Bonnard is inevitably vague. It is as if he was reproducing 
the impression of a person walking down a path or, perhaps, looking at 
the scene from a moving train. For instance, it takes time to make out the 
fascinating figure of a little girl. This “sketchy” manner of painting is 
very characteristic of Bonnard. He tends to avoid a close scrutiny of his 
characters. Looking at the Landscape with a Goods Train, the viewer finds 
himself drawn into a system of resemblances. In pictorial terms, as well 

as by some inner meaning, the head of the little girl, the clump of trees, 
the puffs of smoke coming from the engine and the tugs, and the clouds 
are linked in a common chain. For all the relative nature of brushstrokes 
or, perhaps, because of it, the viewer is made to feel himself inside the 
picture, as in the Mirror in the Dressing-Room. For this reason too, the 
foreground is more blurred than the rest of the picture. Here, in a 
panoramic landscape, Bonnard retains the intimacy typical of his work. 
The Landscape with a Goods Train and Early Spring. Little Fauns address 
the viewer in the artist’s usual quiet tones. They are imbued with his 
unique brand of lyricism and winning archness. With an ease typical of 
him, Bonnard introduces a group of fauns into his landscape, figures 
which could never have appeared in the canvases of the Impressionists. 
The puffed out cheeks of the faun playing the pipe is a delight. One does 
not immediately notice these little goat-legged creatures at the edge of 

♦ Pablo Picasso, Composition with a Skull, 1907. Oil on canvas, 115 x 88 cm. Hermitage, St Petersburg. 

♦ Henri Matisse, The Dance, 1909-1910. Oil on canvas, 260 x 391 cm, Hermitage, St Petersburg. 



♦ Pierre Bonnard, Nude Against the Light, 1908. Oil on canvas, 124.5 x 108 cm, Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels. 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, Young Woman Seated on a Chaise longue, c. 1904. 53 x 60 cm, Location unknown. 



♦ Gustave Caillebotte, A Paris Street in the Rain, 1877. Oil on canvas, 212.2 x 276.2 cm, The Art Institute of Chicago. 



♦ Pierre Bonnard, The People’s Square in Rome , 1921. Oil on canvas, 79.5 x 96.5 cm, The Phillips collection, Washington. 



the painting, but once one does, one cannot banish them from this 
convincingly real corner of the Ile-de-France. And this unpretentious yet 
endearing landscape seems alive with the gentle silvery sounds of the 
pipe. By introducing fauns into his landscape, Bonnard endowed it with 
metaphorical overtones. A friend of the Symbolists, he used their 
poetical methods, at the same time gently mocking them. It is hard to 
decide what is more important in this picture, the humour or the joy at 
nature reawakening. It is this unity of poetic joy and gentle irony that 
makes the landscape of the countryside around Paris at the same time an 
embodiment of the mythical Golden Age. 

The nature of Bonnard’s relationship with Impressionism, a key 
factor in his art, reveals itself most vividly in the subjects he chose and 
in his compositions. The Parisian townscapes may serve as an 
illustration. In comparison with his early pictures of Paris, the urban 
scenes executed in 191 1-12, representing one of the peaks in Bonnard’s 
art, are remarkable for their more complex composition. They contain 
more human figures, more space and more light, and they are richer in 
colouring. These features place them close to the works of Monet, 
Pissarro and Renoir. An Impressionistic flavour is strongly felt in his 
city scenes Morning in Paris and Evening in Paris, a pair of works 
painted for Ivan Morozov and seemingly bearing all the marks of a 
casually observed scene. In fact, of course, this was not the case. Both 
pictures were painted from memory, as was Bonnard’s usual practice. In 
these two townscapes Bonnard was particularly attentive to composi- 
tion and in this respect, as before, he demonstrated a closer affinity to 
Degas rather than to Monet and Pissarro. Indeed in his very conception 
of street scenes Bonnard also followed Degas, or perhaps even 
Caillebotte, while Monet and Pissarro, the founding fathers of the 
Impressionistic townscape, were absorbed with a desire to show street 
life with its unceasing movement from a distance and avoided close-up 
or even middle-ground views of pedestrians. Yet unlike Degas (Place de 
la Concorde, 1873, Hermitage) and still less like Caillebotte (A Paris 
Street in the Rain, 1 877, Art Institute of Chicago) Bonnard does not focus 
on the human figures and avoids depicting them in detail. The soft, 
subdued patches of colour affect the viewer before he has become aware 
of what this or that patch actually represents. Bonnard’s wonderfully 
orchestrated colour arrangements are not arbitrary. In Morning in Paris, 
the blue and pink tones of the sky and the cool hues of the foreground 
are so true to life that they alone, even without the scurrying pedestrians 
and the coal-merchant’s cart with its early-morning load, clearly 
indicate the time of the day. But even after we realise the significance 
of the colour, that does not reduce its charm; quite the contrary, it is 
increased. The patches of colour do no more than “name” the objects 
depicted. They are sufficiently autonomous, and the beauty of their 
combinations could serve as a powerful justification for their 
independent existence. 

At the same time, each masterly brushstroke and each patch of 
colour possess a wonderfully keen and expressive force. The vagueness 
of Bonnard’s painting does not reduce but intensifies that 
expressiveness. For example, the patch of colour representing a dog in 
Morning in Paris shows only its body and tail, but these details are 
enough to reveal the animal’s behaviour with a striking liveliness and 
precision. In the same picture, the silhouette of the coal-merchant’s 
donkey heavily and hurriedly moving its slipping legs may serve as 
another example. There is no animal painter of modern times who 
understood the character of animals better than Bonnard. With the alert 
eye of a master, Bonnard also catches a person’s way of walking or 
behaving. The old flower-seller in Evening in Paris moves in a manner 
typical of her alone, unhurriedly measuring each step. The children 
fooling about a bit in the street move as only children can. 

The details of the picture are so arranged as to give an impression 
of the Parisian way of life. In Morning in Paris in the foreground the 
artist depicts people who have to rise early — the old coal merchant, a 
group of young girls hurrying to work, a little boy loitering on his way 
to school. In Evening in Paris the movement of the figures is quite 
different. Here people are out for a stroll. In the first picture, Bonnard 
depicts a square, a junction of different streams of movement; in the 
second, a boulevard. In the first case, the artist needs an open space; in 
the second, a closed space. In the morning scene it is important to show 
the sunrise colours of the sky and the walls of houses catching the first 
rays of the sun; for the scene at dusk other details are necessary. “What 
is beautiful in nature”, said Bonnard, “is not always beautiful in 
painting, especially in reduction. One example is the effects of evening 
and night.” 25 They say that Felix Feneon, the manager of the Bernheim 
Gallery, once casually remarked to Bonnard that his Parisian street 
scenes were a Success, after which the artist stopped painting them. 26 
This may have taken place in 1912, when the series of works 
commissioned by Morozov was on display for the first time at the 
gallery. Bonnard was always mistrustful of success; to his mind, it 
made an artist repeat himself. Whatever the truth of the matter, 
Bonnard’s last picture of this kind, Place Clichy, is dated 1912 (Musee 
des Beaux-Arts et d’Archeologie, Besantjon). It is a large painting 
which appears to be a sort of synthesis of the motifs in the Moscow 
works. The liveliness, the unassuming simplicity of the subject, an 
apparently casual composition which, however, always has a 
“framework” (Bonnard’s word) and is well balanced, the mobility of 
texture, with each brushstroke vibrating in every patch of colour — all 
these elements are characteristic of an easel painting. It would seem 
from this that Bonnard had no special talent for monumental art, yet his 
large decorative panels are excellent. All the Nabis produced works in 
this field, but the most notable were by Bonnard, for his art is devoid 
of the deliberate solemnity nearly always present in monumental 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, La Promenade, c. 1900. Oil on canvas, 38x31 cm, Private Collection. 



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painting. Bonnard’s most outstanding large work is undoubtedly the 
triptych entitled Mediterranean. 

Working on large paintings, Bonnard did not invent a new style. On 
the whole, his manner remained the same as in his small canvases. True, 
in these he used simpler, clearer compositions and the overall tonality 
changed under the influence of the southern lighting. The artist’s sincerity, 
his deeply personal and poetic vision of reality and his unerring feeling 
for colour helped him to work on large surfaces with undiminished 
confidence. Displaying a close affinity to the elderly Monet with his 
water-lilies series and his great panels for the Orangerie, Bonnard left a 
noticeable mark in decorative painting, although the path thus mapped out 
was not followed by succeeding generations of monumental artists. 

The triptych forms, in fact, one picture — a landscape on three sub- 
frames. At the same time, each canvas is compositionally complete. For 
this reason each panel requires space around it, “room to breathe”. 
Bonnard knew that the staircase in Morozov’s mansion for which the 
triptych was intended had semi-columns and he planned that they would 
act as spacers within the composition. The semi-columns served both as 
frames and as functional elements of the scene. The subject of the 
triptych is a garden with a view of the Mediterranean. The garden is not 
empty: the central panel features an amusing group of children playing; 
each of the side panels includes a young woman. Although all the 
human figures are placed in shadow, the triptych would lose a great deal 
without these gently graceful, typically Bonnardian women and the 
funny, restless children. Yet, the landscape is more important here than 
the human figures, a landscape which is not wild and primordial, but 
cultivated, a landscape produced by hundreds of years of European 
civilization nurtured by the Mediterranean. 

A great deal of space in the garden is taken up by the trees. Their 
theatrical and festive arabesques set the general, decorative tone of the 
pictures and create a feeling of luxuriant nature. In the background, 
which nevertheless seems somehow close to the viewer, subordinate to 
the rules of flat landscape painting, is the alluring blue of the 
Mediterranean, the birthplace of European civilization. A comparison 
with View of Saint-Tropez (1909, Hahnloser collection, Bern), the 
forerunner of the central panel, shows that in the triptych Bonnard 
omitted the opening to the sea. This made the composition more tranquil 
and even majestic. It is not just a view, but an image of the 
Mediterranean. In this respect the triptych painted for Morozov 
represents a new stage in Bonnard’s evolution, although the stylized 
treatment of the trees goes back to the artist’s experiments in the 1890s. 

When Morozov commissioned two more panels to complete the 
triptych, Bonnard returned to already familiar subjects: early spring and 
the middle of autumn. These two panels flanked the triptych that 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, Woman in the Garden (panel 1, 2, 3, 4), 1891. Oil on 
paper mounted on canvas, 4 panels, 160 x 48 cm each, Musee 
d’Orsay, Paris. 



represented summer time, and thus formed a seasons-of-the-year 
ensemble. Early Spring in the Countryside and Autumn. Fruit-Picking are 
technically inferior to the triptych, but they complement it admirably. 
Though Bonnard had not visited Moscow, he had a good idea of the setting 
in Morozov’s mansion where the works would be hung. The triptych was 
to decorate the main staircase, extending its vista, and for that reason had 
to have additional depth. The two panels ordered later were to hang on the 
side walls. They are flatter and more restrained in colour, while the 
decorative treatment of the trees is reminiscent of ancient tapestries. The 
panels also display features linking them with oriental art. Clive Bell, an 
English art critic, once perspicaciously remarked that “Bonnard’s pictures 
as a rule grow not as trees; they float as water-lilies. European pictures, as 
a rule, spring upwards, masonry-wise, from their foundation; the design of 
a picture by Bonnard, like that of many Chinese pictures and Persian 
textiles, seems to have been laid on the canvas as one might lay cautiously 
on dry grass some infinitely precious figured gauze.” 27 

In the panels representing spring and autumn, Bonnard obviously 
depicted gardens in the north, a fact to which the preliminary sketches 
also testify. In another panel — Summer. The Dance — painted in the 
same year and to a considerable extent related to Morozov’s ensemble, 
Bonnard depicted a southern landscape. The artist admitted that he 
preferred the northern light, but to the viewer the difference between the 
north and the south is of secondary importance. Whatever the case, he 
sees first and foremost Bonnard’s vision of nature and only after that a 
definite landscape in Saint-Tropez or Vernonnet. However decorative 
Bonnard’s representation of nature is, it never becomes a mere 
background subordinated to the human figures. The regally transformed 
world of vegetation is the embodiment of Bonnard’s dream, his ideal, 
his joy, at times masked by a humorous and, at first glance, flippant 
irony. However, the beautiful nature in his paintings rejects dramatic or 
prosaic events, didactic subjects or subjects with a pathetic tinge. But it 
readily admits a group of children playing or women enjoying a chance 
to relax. Even the fruit-picking in the panel Autumn reminds one of a 
game rather than work. 

In Bonnard’s pictures of nature in festive mood only isolated features 
remind one of the real-world prototypes. That is not to say that the artist 
felt no need of any original for his decorative paintings. These wonderful 
states of nature were not invented but observed. While painting his earthly 
paradise, Bonnard, however, did not feel obliged to reproduce all the 
details of a real scene. Depicting the landscape of Provence in Summer. 
The Dance, he introduced into it, without hesitation, a usual motif of his 
— the games and pranks of his sister’s children, which he loved watching 
and even joining in with. Of course, that did not take place in the south. 
The characters in the panel Summer. The Dance are not those depicted in 
the group portrait of the Terrasse family. They are imaginary, but they do 
make one think of their prototypes. Bonnard’s fantasy, like that of any 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, The Terrace at Vernon, c. 1928. Oil on canvas, 

242.5 x 309 cm, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Diisseldorf. 



♦ Pierre Bonnard, The Provincial Pot, 1930. Oil on canvas, 75.5 x 62 cm, Private Collection, Switzerland. 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, The Breakfast Room, 1930-1931. Oil on canvas, 159.6 x 113.8 cm, Museum of Modern Art, New York. 



great artist, was founded on impressions from real life, and it is important 
to stress that on the whole these were happy, joyful impressions. In this 
respect Bonnard was a follower of Watteau, Fragonard and Renoir, and a 
fellow of his contemporaries, Matisse and Duly. Not only in his 
decorative panels, but also in his easel compositions depicting open-air 
scenes, Bonnard sacrificed the anthropocentrism deeply rooted in 
European art, to the joyous, happy world he created. An excellent 
example of this is provided by the Moscow picture Summer in Normandy. 
Here nothing has been invented. The work shows two women having a 

chat on the terrace of the villa “Ma Roulotte” in Vernonnet. The one on 
the left is the artist’s wife. The dog, Ubu, always nearby, is looking up at 
them from below with an expectation typical of dogs. In the background, 
the Seine glistens behind the trees. Although the two women are in the 
foreground, one does not notice them at once. The viewer’s attention is 
attracted primarily to the garden and the fields in the background, since 
Marthe’s figure is placed in the shadow, while that of her friend, who is 
sitting in the sun, is masked by a green dress. But even when one notices 
the women, one perceives them as an integral part of this wonderful 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, Sombre Nude, 1942-1946. Oil on canvas, 81 x 55 cm, Private Collection, Paris. 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, The Circus Horse, 1936-1946. Oil on canvas, 94 x 118 cm, Private Collection, Fontainebleau. 



♦ Pierre Bonnard, The Descent to Cannet, 1940. Oil on canvas, 65 x 72 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, New York, Robert Lehman 
Collection, 1975. 



♦ Pierre Bonnard, Landscape at Le Cannet, View Over the Roof-tops , 1941-1942. Oil on canvas, 80 x 104 cm, Private Collection. 



corner of nature. There is nothing in this picture of the role formerly 
played by landscape — as a background for a human figure depicted in 
the foreground and thus inevitably dominant. The basis of the harmony at 
which Bonnard aimed was a happy coexistence of man and nature. “One 
morning, on his way from ‘Ma Roulotte’, Bonnard instinctively walked 
towards two men discussing something near an ancient poplar tree, a tree 
which played an important role in the surrounding landscape and which 
he always greeted with a friendly smile whenever he happened to pass by. 
It turned out that the two men, the owner of the land and a timber- 
merchant, were discussing felling the tree. They seemed to have come to 

an agreement. Digging into his pocket, Bonnard produced more notes 
than the buyer could ever have offered, and the tree was saved. With his 
dachshund at his heel, Bonnard walked happily away, feeling the 
astonishment of the two men behind his back. He walked away with a 
tight heart because the old poplar would continue to hold up that vital 
landscape.” 28 Today Bonnard’s popularity is on the rise. The public is 
becoming aware of the unique beauty of his paintings and of the wise 
warmth of the artist’s spirit. The delight Bonnard took in nature is perhaps 
appreciated all the more today, when we find ourselves confronted with 
ecological problems at every turn. 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, The Yellow Boat, 1938. 58 x 76 cm. Location unknown. 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, Almond Tree in Bloom, 1947. Oil on canvas, 55 x 37.5 cm, Musee National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. 




Behind the Fence 

Derriere la grille 


Oil on cardboard. 31 x 35 cm 
Hermitage, St Petersburg 

This picture is typical of Bonnard's early period in which he used the 
decorative effect of checks and squares borrowed from Japanese art. 
One could already identify this technique in Woman with Dog (Sterling 
and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown). A similar method of 
setting off a female figure against a diagonal pattern is employed in 
Promenade (Private collection, Winterthur). Kiosk on the Boulevard 
(Private collection, Paris) and At the Park (Private collection) also 
display the same kind of design with their distinctive treatment of the 
black, bare trees, while their dimensions are practically the same (34 x 

33 cm and 36 x 39.5 cm). Both Promenade and Kiosk on the Boulevard 
were dated by the Daubervilles to about 1894; it would be more 
accurate, however, to date them to the year 1895, thus bringing them 
into line with the Hermitage picture, which can safely be regarded as a 
starting point in establishing the chronological order of Bonnard's work 
of that period. In fact, Behind the Fence is one of the two 1895 pictures 
dated by the artist himself. It was the first oil painting by Bonnard to be 
brought to Russia (before 1903) and also the earliest work by him now 
in a Russian museum collection. 





♦ Pierre Bonnard, At the Park, 1900. Oil on cardboard, 36 x 39.5 cm, Private Collection. 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, Woman with Dog, 1891. Oil on canvas, 40.6 x 32.4 cm, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA, USA. 



Landscape in the Dauphine 

Paysage du Dauphine 


Oil on panel. 45.5 x 56 cm 
Hermitage, St Petersburg 

The picture belongs to Bonnard’s early period, a fact which is borne 
out, among other things, by the obviously Japanese treatment of the 
landscape. While painting it, Bonnard apparently had in mind sheet 18 
from Hiroshige’s series of woodcuts 69 Stations of Kisokaido (1837-42) 
and Hodagaya on Tokaido (1823-29) by Hokusai. The 1965 catalogue 
raisonne of Bonnard’s painting compiled by the Daubervilles dates the 
picture to about 1905. The compilers knew it only from photographs 
and clearly had no documentary evidence to define the date, therefore 
they relied on the style alone. Yet it is stylistic features that set 
Landscape in the Dauphine apart from those of Bonnard’s works which 
indisputably do date from 1905. It depicts the valley in the foothills of 

the Alps near Grand-Lemps, where the artist spent his childhood in his 
grandfather’s home and where he repeatedly returned later in life. 
Incidentally, Vollard, who sold Landscape in the Dauphine to Ivan 
Morozov, possessed quite a few of Bonnard’s early works, including 
some dating from 1 899. 

Vollard wrote to Ivan Morozov on 28 June 1907 that he could let 
him know the titles of the pictures just handed over to him by the artist 
himself: “...the landscape-format picture is called Paysage du 
Dauphine" (Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts archives). It is also known as 
Green Landscape, the title written on the reverse of the panel. 





A Corner of Paris. 

c. 1905 

Oil on cardboard pasted on parquet panel 
49.2 x 51.8 cm 
Hermitage, St. Petersburg 

Although this landscape clearly represents a corner of Paris (probably 
in the neighbourhood of the rue de Douai, where the artist’s workshop 
was located), the painting is so hazy that it is difficult to distinguish 
between the small details, the posters on the wall and the figures. 

The patch of children almost merges into the background. The theme of 
groups of children in the streets of Paris interested Bonnard as early as 
the 1890s: one has only to look at two small paintings of his produced 
in 1898. With regard to the posters, Bonnard had always shown a real 

interest in this genre of art and he worked successfully in this field at the 
beginning of his career. In the Dauberville catalogue the date of this 
painting is shown as 1905, which can be confirmed by the distinctive 
stylistic techniques that have been used. 

On 28 June 1907, Vollard said in his letter to Morozov that he had the 
occasion to reveal the title of the painting that he had just received from 
the artist. The painting, representing buildings and trees, was called A 
Corner of Paris. 





♦ Pierre Bonnard, On the way to school, 1895. Oil on canvas, 27 x 43 cm, Washington National Gallery of Art. 



♦ Pierre Bonnard, The Grands Boulevards, 1896. Oil on canvas, 27 x 33.6 cm, Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury. 



Mirror in the Dressing Room 


Oil on canvas. 125 x 110 cm 
Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow. 

Mirror in the Dressing-Room is the only still life by Bonnard in the 
Russian collections. It is one of the most wide-ranging of his works in 
terms of genre as well as one of the most captivating for its visual 
harmony. A painting as complex as this required not only daring, but 
also the considerable experience accumulated over twenty years of 
work. Bonnard’s earliest still lifes, including student pieces dating back 
to 1888, were far removed from the solution of complex issues of genre 
and space; they are straightforward presentations of bouquets of 
flowers, colourful and attractive. 

This painting is interesting for the fact that it records meticulously 
certain details of the artist’s domestic environment. It might also be 
termed autobiographical because one of the women depicted is easily 
recognisable as Bonnard’s muse and lifelong companion Marthe 
(Marie) Boursin. The unforced naturalness of her pose — her unique 
way of holding a cup of coffee, which can be seen again in later 
depictions of Marthe — is captured with a striking persuasiveness. The 
painting leaves a question mark about Marthe ’s exact role: either 
mistress of the house or a model in a moment of relaxation. This is 
natural, since Marthe posed for Bonnard more often than anyone else. 
A photograph has survived, taken by the artist himself, in which 
Marthe is seen washing herself in a basin against the background of the 
dressing-table. It dates from the time when this painting was produced. 
The juxtaposition of two women, one naked, the other clothed, has 
about it an element of irony, which was highly characteristic of 
Bonnard. A somewhat unusual feature of this painting is the inclusion 
of the mirror. A detail of this kind occurred quite often in the work of 
the Old Masters, most frequently as an element in vanitas compositions 
which through the idiom of juxtaposed objects spoke of the transitory 
nature of life and of human vanity. Sometimes a mirror was depicted in 
combination with a statuette of a half-naked woman which symbolized 
Art. However, this kind of object symbolism had lost its original 
meaning as early as the eighteenth century. In their still lifes Bonnard’s 
immediate predecessors, the Impressionists, hardly ever used a mirror 
as a compositional element. The great exception is Edouard Manet’s 
Bar at the Folies-Bergere, a work with a considerable number of still- 
life features in which the mirror is not so much a background as a 
spatial display screen — a device with which Bonnard was 
undoubtedly familiar. 

The basic structural elements of Mirror in the Dressing-Room had 
formed long before 1908. For example, in 1894 the artist painted The 
Cup of Coffee which depicts a girl at a little table holding a coffee-cup. 

The following year, in response to a commission for the decoration of 
a bathroom and boudoir, Bonnard produced a series of grisaille and 
red-chalk nudes in which we can detect the influence of Degas. Degas 
had been the first to depict nudes in huge basins or baths, at their 
toilette, without prettifying them in any degree. Particularly notable in 
this regard is his 1876-77 series of mono-types (some of them touched 
with pastel). It is quite probable that Bonnard saw one or more of 
Degas’ nudes shown standing with a jug and basin at the dressing- 
table, her back to the viewer — either After the Bath (Private 
Collection) or Woman at Her Toilette (Norton Simon Foundation, 
Pasadena). The latter is very close to Bonnard’s Moscow composition, 
even to the point of various details coinciding. The subject matter may 
also have been prompted by other works by Degas, whose love of 
unusual compositional arrangements and unexpected viewpoints in 
his depictions of nudes must surely have made a strong impression on 
Bonnard. Yet in Mirror in the Dressing-Room Degas’s influence is less 
detectable than in the works which preceded it. By 1908 Bonnard had 
emerged as an artist who engaged with assurance in a dialogue with 
his predecessors. Thus a detail such as the large basin on the dressing- 
table combined with the reflection in the mirror of the model, who 
seems proportionally considerably smaller, reminding us of the 
treatment given to similar motifs in Degas’s work, bears a slightly 
ironic overtone. 

The year 1902 is the approximate date given to Nude Washing or Rural 
Toilette which, with its depiction of the model from behind in 
backlighting, is a prototype of the nudes of 1908, among which Mirror in 
the Dressing-Room can to a certain extent be included. Another of these 
prototypes is Woman Undressing (c. 1905), in which the model is 
presented against the background of a mirror. A more immediate 
predecessor of Mirror in the Dressing-Room was the painting entitled The 
Dressing-Room or Girl Drying Herself ( 1 907, Private Collection, Paris). 
The Moscow work looks like a sort of inversion of this one in which 
rather than the model being caught in the mirror, the dressing-table and 
the toilet accoutrements serve as a background for her. It is possible that 
the same girl posed for that picture as for Mirror in the Dressing-Room. It 
was however Bonnard’s next painting in the series that would become one 
of his greatest achievements. It is known by three different titles: 
Dressing-Room with Pink Couch', Eau de Cologne', and Nude against the 
Light (1908, Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels). The model, 
depicted half-turned from behind, is on the right, the dressing-table on the 
left; the two elements are intended to balance each other. In the middle 
there is a window whose silvery-azure light sets the colour key for the 



whole painting. Although the different titles for the Brussels canvas 
reflect, as it were, the difficulty of pinning it down to a particular genre, 
it must be acknowledged that it tends most towards the nude: the model 
remains the chief feature. In that late variant of the Moscow composition 
the horizontal element is dominant. The format of the painting and the 
mirror are subordinated to one and the same module. The imitation- 
bamboo frame in the Moscow painting and some of its variants introduces 

a slight Japanese element, entirely natural for the “Nipponised Nabi”. We 
should not interpret this alteration as meaning that Bonnard really did 
change the frame of his dressing-table mirror; while conveying the spirit 
and some particular features of his domestic environment, he felt under 
no obligation to merely copy from nature and depicted the frame first in 
one way and then another, depending on what better suited the needs of 
the composition. There is one further postscript to the Moscow still life 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, The Bathroom Mirror, 1914. Oil on canvas, 72 x 88.5 cm, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, The Dressing Table with a bunch of Red and Yellow Flowers, 1913. Oil on canvas, 125 x 110 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. 





— Reflection in the Mirror or The Tub (1909, Private Collection, 
Switzerland). In it only a small corner of the dressing-table is shown, but 
the viewpoint chosen means that the table-top with the basin is reflected 
in the mirror as well as the model and part of the interior. A few years later 
Bonnard returned to the motif of the Moscow painting in Dressing-Table 
with a Bunch of Red and Yellow Flowers (1913 Museum of Fine Arts, 

Houston) in which the flowers in the jug become the centre of the 
composition and the mirror shows the model seated. The following year, 
in The Dressing-Room (Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts) the table 
and mirror are no longer the main element but part of the larger interior. 
For all its positive qualities, this last canvas lacks the sharpness and ease 
which distinguish Mirror in the Dressing-Room. 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, In the Bathroom, 1907. Oil on board, 107 x 72 cm, Private Collection, Lausanne. 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, Reflection in the Mirror, 1909. Oil on canvas, 73 x 84.5, Private Collection, Switzerland. 



Early Spring. Little Fauns 

Premier Printemps. Les Petits Faunes 


Oil on canvas (relined). 102.5 x 125 cm 
Hermitage, St Petersburg. 

The picture can be assumed to have been inspired in part by 
Mallarme’s L’Apres-midi d’un faune (c. 1865). All the Nabis were very 
fond of this joyous eclogue, yet in aiming to recreate the spirit of 
Mallarme’s poetry Bonnard knew better than to produce a mere 
illustration. Besides, one cannot but recall Debussy’s Prelude of the 
same title (1894), which was also inspired by Mallarme. Bearing that in 
mind, the musical theme of the Hermitage picture — the faun playing 
his reed-pipe — is not coincidental. 

Bonnard first turned to pastoral motifs in 1902, when Vollard 
commissioned him to illustrate Longus’s Daphnis and Chloe. He was 
preceded by Roussel, who had by that time made lithographs for the 
Album of Landscapes (1899), also to Vollard’s commission. Bonnard 
appreciated Roussel’s art and knew both the Album of Landscapes and 
Fauns and Nymphs (c. 1904, Bretegnier- Andre collection, Paris). In 
1907, he painted a small-size panel of a similar subject known under 
various titles: Faun, Rape of the Nymph, L Apres-midi d’un faune (Private 
Collection). A larger panel also exists called The Fauns (Private 
collection, Switzerland; D 329). The Daubervilles dated it to 1905; 
however, the organizers of Bonnard's 1984-85 exhibition in Zurich 
seem to be right in dating it to 1 9 1 0. Except for Early Spring and a larger 
panel also called The Fauns, this is the only painting by Bonnard which 
depict Dionysian characters. Early Spring was preceded by the small- 
scale companion panels Mother and Child and Father and Daughter 
(Lambert collection, Brussels), each depicting two figures against a 
landscape. The figure motifs of these panels were to be merged into the 
characters of the Hermitage composition, with the pipe-playing faun 
shown in the same pose as the mother in the Brussels panel, although 

originally this pose was struck by the figure of the father. Early Spring 
was also preceded by Thoughts or Early Spring (1908, Phillips 
Collection, Washington), where the painter presented with a few minor 
alterations the same landscape he had seen in Vernouillet. Part of this 
landscape background also recurs in The Storm (1908, Private 
Collection, Switzerland), with two children running from the storm. 
This subject was employed in quite a few Salon paintings in the last 
quarter of the nineteenth century. Bonnard’s substitution of 
mythological characters for the realistic figures in the 1908 canvas 
yielded a result unprecedented in the artist’s earlier work and recurring 
only once, if less conspicuously, in the painting The Fauns. The fauns 
and nymphs in his previous works were usually depicted against the 
background of an imaginary landscape, devoid of human presence; but 
placing the fauns in the real Vernouillet landscape with its recognizable 
architectural landmarks created a quite unexpected counterpoint. 

According to Felix Feneon, who ran the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery, 
Ivan Morozov dated Early Spring to 1903-04, and Charles Terrasse, the 
artist’s nephew, to the 1910s; the Daubervilles are undoubtedly right in 
thinking that the Hermitage picture was painted in 1909. In 1904 
Bonnard visited Vernouillet, though not in spring. Besides, the style of 
Early Spring differs from other pictures of that period. Bonnard’s 
sojourn at Vernouillet in the spring of 1909 was very fruitful. Rainy 
Landscape (Art Museum of the Ateneum, Helsinki), a picture painted, 
among many others, during his stay there, reproduces in part the 
landscape of Early Spring. The Helsinki painting was dated by Bonnard 
himself to 1 909, which also supports the dating of the Hermitage canvas 
given above. 





♦ Pierre Bonnard, Early Spring, 1908. Oil on canvas, 87.6 x 132.1 cm. The Phillips Collection. Washington, DC. 



♦ Pierre Bonnard, Sunny Landscape, village in the background, 1923. Oil on cardboard, 32.7 x 41 cm. Private Collection. 



Train and Fishing Boats 

Le Train et les chalands 


Oil on canvas. 77 x 108 cm 
Hermitage, St Petersburg 

Under the title Train and Fishing Boats this picture was first 
exhibited at Bonnard’s one-man show at the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery in 
1910. However, Ivan Morozov, who purchased it from the exhibition, 
entered it in his manuscript catalogue as Landscape with a Goods Train, 
the title by which this painting has traditionally been known in Russia. 
When talking to Ivan Morozov, a representative of the Bernheim-Jeune 
Gallery gave the year it was painted as 1 909. This date is to be found on 
the bar of the sub-frame. The painting depicts the countryside near 
Vernouillet, a small town on the Seine not far from Paris which is 
remarkable for its eighth-century church, a superb example of Roman 
architecture. Bonnard, however, ignored the local sights (he stayed there 
in the spring of 1907, 1909 and later). What appealed to him was the 
scenery lying outside the town. The motifs of the Vernouillet 
countryside are usually associated with springtime, e.g. Early Spring 
(1908, Phillips Collection, Washington) and a further development of 
the same theme, Early Spring. Little Fauns ( 1 909, Hermitage). These two 
paintings are the most important Vernouillet landscapes. Train and 

Fishing Boats is probably the third, depicting as it does late spring. 
Bonnard often links the theme of spring with images of children. This 
painting has a little girl in the bottom left-hand corner. She is deliber- 
ately out of focus: the figure becomes noticeable only if the painting is 
studied closely, but this detail strikes a significant note in the mood of 
the picture, adding to its air of ease. By placing the girl in the 
foreground the artist seems to have been waiting for the train to appear 
from behind the hill, in order to obtain an effect which is both humorous 
and deliberate, determined by the inherent structure of the composition, 
with the objects — the train, fishing boats and girl — all moving in the 
same direction, prompting a comparison. 

During the Bonnard exhibition at the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery in 
March 1910, this picture was noticed by Guillaume Apollinaire, who 
wrote: “Among the landscapes, there are some works that are powerful 
and devoid of brutality, such as Le Train et les chalands , whose effect is 
at once very strong and very light”. 





♦ Pierre Bonnard, Tugboat at Vernon, c. 1929. Oil on canvas, 56 x 60 cm, Private Collection. 



♦ Pierre Bonnard, Cottages at Cannet , 1933. Oil on canvas, 73 x 92 cm, Private Collection. 



The Seine near Vernon 

La Seine pres de Vernon 

c. 1911 

Oil on canvas (relined). 41.5 x 52 cm 
Hermitage, St Petersburg 

The catalogue raisonne of Bonnard’s painting compiled by Jean and 
Henri Dauberville dates the picture to about 1906. The compilers make 
no mention of any other work in the same vein dating from that period. 
Yet it seems natural to include the Hermitage landscape with a group 
of later paintings united by a common compositional arrangement. 
Anna Barskaya linked the picture with the views of the Seine painted 
in 1910 and 1911. The artist discovered these views in the vicinity of 
“Ma Roulotte”, a small villa he rented in 1910 and 1911 and bought the 
following year. It was located in Vernonnet, a village near both Vernon 
and Giverny. It would seem more accurate to date the Hermitage 
picture to 1911, by analogy with The Seine in Vernon (Hahnloser 
collection, Bern) and, particularly, with View of the Seine in May. All 

three depict the same scenery, while the Hermitage picture is the same 
size as View of the Seine in May. Bonnard would turn to this subject mat- 
ter more than once in the years to come. Barskaya suggested that View 
of the Seine shown at the “A Hundred Years of French Painting” 
exhibition in St Petersburg in 1912 was in fact The Seine near Vernon. 
This hypothesis cannot be refuted any more than it can be proved. The 
dimensions of the picture are not given in the catalogue of that 
exhibition. View of the Seine once belonged to Haasen. The greater part 
of his collection remained in Petrograd, but some pictures, including 
those displayed at the “A Hundred Years of French Painting” 
exhibition, disappeared from view. The owner might have taken them 
out of the country when he emigrated. 





The Seine at Vernonnet 

La Seine a Vernonnet 


Oil on canvas. 51 x 60.5 cm 
Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow 

This painting is also known as The Seine by Vernon. Vernonnet is a 
town on the Seine downstream from Paris not far from Vernon, between 
Normandy and the lle-de-France. Bonnard began working there in 
1910, when he produced The Clouds or The Seine near Vernonnet (Paul 
Vallotton Gallery, Lausanne) and Spring Landscape. In the latter we can 
recognize the high river bank featured in the Moscow painting. The 
Daubervilles dated The Seine at Vernonnet to 1910-11; the Bernheim- 
Jeune label on the back seems to indicate more precisely 1911, the 
dating accepted in the Pushkin Museum. We know that in 1911 Bonnard 
worked at Vernonnet in May and June, while in 1910 he was there in 
March. This fact would tend to tip the balance in favour of the earlier 
date since the view is clearly one of early, rather than late, spring. The 
date on the label may have been a mistake since it was only attached to 
the painting when it entered the gallery, which was apparently in 1912. 

Vernonnet has no natural or man-made sights to distinguish it, but 
Bonnard was very fond of the place and for the following year he 

acquired a small estate called “Ma Roulotte” there. In the Moscow 
painting too, the landscape at Vernonnet appears fairly unprepossessing. 
The trees, which have still not turned green, almost merge with the 
sandy slopes, while the smooth greyish-blue sky blends with the 
greyish-blue surface of the Seine. The only striking detail is the boat by 
the bank, providing a slight contrast of colour without which this very 
subtly painted work would become monotonous. The artist turned fairly 
late to views of the Seine, which is surprising if we recall his strong ties 
to Impressionism — after all, working on the Seine was an important 
element in the development of the Impressionists’ art. Probably one of 
the earliest paintings featuring the Seine is Regatta (c. 1896), followed 
a few years later by Bridge in Paris (Brody Collection, Los Angeles). 
But in both cases the river only provides a background for the scene 
depicted. In short, while Bonnard lived in Paris he was far more 
attracted to the streets and squares of the city, and it was only when he 
settled first in Vernonnet, then in Vernonnet, that he really discovered 
the attractions of the Seine. 





Morning in Paris 

Le Matin a Paris 


Oil on canvas. 76.5 x 122 cm 
Hermitage, St Petersburg 

The theme of Paris streets, introduced by the Impressionists, had been 
interpreted in a wide range of ways by the early twentieth century: from 
the fleeting glimpses found in the works of the older Impressionists — 
Monet, Renoir and Pissarro — to the dry but amusing genre scenes of 
Forain. Among Bonnard’s predecessors as a painter of Parisian scenes in 
general and these two companion canvases in particular, we can single out 
Gustave Caillebotte, who produced a monumental work A Paris Street in 
the Rain (1877, Art Institute of Chicago), and Jules Adler with his picture 
The Tired Ones (1897, Musee Calvet, Avignon), which attracted attention 
at the Salon exhibitions in the late 1890s. In A Paris Street Caillebotte, 
who had exhibited with the Impressionists, was preoccupied with 
dynamic possibilities of perspective and the precise rendition of detail. 
This let him to depart from the fleeting impression and, in essence, to 
overstep the bounds of Impressionism. Adler was still further removed 
from that movement, as his paintings were socially committed and almost 
photo-realistic. While using compositional devices similar to those 
employed by these two artists, Bonnard, nonetheless, entered into a 
dispute with them, since he insisted on adherence to pictorial, even 
decorative, qualities. The other Nabis were moving in the same direction, 
especially Street in Paris ( 1 895, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) 
which features motifs close to Morning in Paris. 

In January 1910, Bonnard was commissioned by Ivan Morozov, 
through the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery, to paint “two pictures based on 
Paris life”, 2,500 francs apiece, the painter having the freedom to 
choose the subjects. The receipt from the Bernheim-Jeune company 
representative is in the archives of the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, 
Moscow. The two pictures were entered by Morozov in his handwritten 
catalogue as Morning and Evening. They were painted in 1911 and sent 
to Moscow the following year. 

The two-piece set depicts a district which the artist repeatedly 
painted between 1893 and 1912. It was here, in the neighbourhood of 
the Boulevard de Clichy and the Boulevard des Batignolles, that his 
studio was located (in 1893, he rented a small studio at no. 65 Rue de 

Douai, and moved to no. 60 in 1907). The subjects of the pair go back 
as far as the earliest pieces produced in the studio in the Rue de Douai, 
On the Boulevard (1893) and People in the Street (c. 1894). In 1899, 
Vollard published a 12-piece series of colour lithographs by Bonnard 
Some Aspects of Paris Life, which also played a role in establishing the 
genre and iconographic features of the future Moscow works. A Street 
Corner, one of this series, undoubtedly contains motifs that were later 
to appear in Morning in Paris : children, women, a small dog and a cart. 
From that time onwards, motifs seen in the Hermitage composition 
repeatedly cropped up in other pictures. For instance, Place Clichy 
(1895; D 90) features young women coming towards the viewer, and 
they are again placed in the bottom left-hand corner. A still greater 
similarity can be found in Place Clichy or The Green Tram (1906, Nathan 
Collection, Zurich) which has girls and a pedlar carrying his tray in the 
foreground, and dogs and children in the centre. 

A fragment of the Morning in Paris background can readily be 
recognized in another 1911 painting, Fog on the Boulevard des 
Batignolles. This crossroads had already featured twice in Bonnard’s 
art: in 1909, when he painted The Cart or Rag-Pickers (Barnes 
Foundation, Marion), and early the following year, in Rag-Pickers 
(Salz Collection, New York.) A pedlar-woman with her merchandise 
and a group of girls at the sides, a cart and a small boy are outlined in 
such a manner that each and every one of them indicates early 
morning. One last detail — the small schoolboy wrapped up in a huge 
muffler and carrying a large book — brings to mind what Charles 
Terrasse, the artist’s nephew, wrote in his book on Bonnard: “1 am 
fond of strolling along the streets of Montmartre, where I find my 
childhood; and there I find Bonnard again. The one and the other are 
mixed up in my recollections... the Rue de Douai, Rue Pigalle, 
Boulevard de Clichy. Most of all 1 enjoy walking along them in the 
morning. I can see myself again, well wrapped-up, setting out for the 
eight o’clock class at the local lycee, in the fog, through the grey 
cotton-wool of Paris in winter...” (C. Terrasse, Bonnard, Paris, 1927, 
pp. 69-70). 





♦ Pierre Bonnard, Place Clichy or The Green Tram , 1906. Oil on canvas, 121 x 150 cm, Private Collection. 



♦ Pierre Bonnard, Place Clichy or The Two Elegant Ladies, 1905. Oil on cardboard, 73 x 62 cm, Private Collection. 



Evening in Paris 


Oil on canvas. 76 x 121 cm 
Hermitage, St Petersburg 

Part of a set, rather than a diptych, Evening in Paris, like Morning in 
Paris, is a painting in its own right. Indeed the pair have at times been 
exhibited separately. But it is only when they are placed alongside each 
other that they display their merits to the full. 

Although Evening lacks the spatial depth of Morning and shows quite 
another scene, there is little doubt that it was conceived as a companion 
piece, something which is borne out, above all, by the similar 
arrangement of details in the foreground. The counterpart of the elderly 
pedlar on the right-hand side of Morning is the old flower-seller in 
Evening, and the oncoming girls are matched here by the figures of 
children. Another thing that unites the two canvases is the movement 
across the surface of each. The idea of painting two pictures instead of 
one, showing aspects of daily life in the Paris streets and linked by the 
traditional concept of the changing times of the day, was not 
coincidental. It was rooted in Bonnard’s previous work and was sug- 
gested by his place of residence. The Rue de Douai leads almost to the 
Place Clichy, where the Boulevard de Clichy and the Boulevard des 
Batignolles meet. Even in Bonnard’s day this was a very busy junction. 
During the late 1890s and early 1900s, Bonnard took a keen interest in 
depicting the bustle of the streets, constant movement that varied 
depending on whether it was morning, afternoon or night. He remained 
attached to the idea of a many-piece series, which could render more 
impressions than a single canvas. In 1896 and 1900, he painted two 

triptychs depicting the Place Clichy. The first is known as The Ages of 
Life. It gave him an opportunity to compare the different stages of a 
man’s lifespan. This approach was retained in the Morozov set, with 
each picture portraying people of three ages. 

A group of paintings from 1895 can be regarded as the starting 
point for Evening in Paris. They include a small-scale canvas Fiacre 
or The Boulevard des Batignolles, now in the National Gallery, 
Washington (with a tentative comment that it might depict the 
Boulevard de Clichy rather than the Boulevard des Batignolles), 
which has a background bearing a strong resemblance to that of the 
Hermitage picture, and also three lithographs from the Some Aspects 
of the Paris Life series (Boulevard, Square in the Evening, Evening 
Street in the Rain). These lithographs, and hence Evening in Paris too, 
contain reminders that Bonnard as the “Nipponised Nabi” drew 
inspiration from Japanese sources: the frieze-like composition is akin 
to Kiyonaga’s techniques, while the evening street itself resembles 
Hiroshige’s colour woodcut Saruwaka Quarter at Night from A 
Hundred Famous Views of Edo (1856) or the tenth sheet of his series 
69 Views of Kisokaido (1837-42). 

Especially important among those of Bonnard’s earlier works which 
paved the way for Evening in Paris is Flower-Seller (c. 1905), depicting 
an old woman with a cart of flowers and two girls on the right. 





♦ Pierre Bonnard, Place Clichy, 1912. Oil on canvas, 139 x 205 cm, Musee des Beaux-Arts et d’Archeologie, Besangon. 



♦ Pierre Bonnard, Flower-Seller, 1905. oil on canvas, 105 x 117 cm, Private Collection. 



Mediterranean. Triptych 



Left-hand part. Oil on canvas (relined). 407 x 152 cm 
Central part. Oil on canvas (relined). 407 x 152 cm 
Right-hand part. Oil on canvas (relined). 407 x 149 cm 
Hermitage, St Petersburg 

This triptych was commissioned by Ivan Morozov through the 
Bernheim-Jeune Gallery for 25,000 francs and was intended for the 
staircase of his house in Prechistenka Street, Moscow, now the 
premises of the Academy of Arts. Morozov sent the artist a photograph 
of the staircase and gave its dimensions. The parts of the triptych were 
to be divided by semi-columns, a fact Bonnard bore in mind when 
planning the whole composition. The triptych was exhibited at the 
1911 Salon d’Automne under the title Mediterranean. Panels between 
Columns. The next year Morozov commissioned Bonnard to paint 
another two large-scale panels to go with the triptych: Early Spring in 
the Countryside and Autumn. Fruit-Picking. The main subjects of the 
triptych can be traced back to Bonnard’s early period. He was depicting 
women and children in gardens as early as the 1890s: The Champs- 
Elysees ( c . 1 894), The Terrasse Children Playing in the Garden (c. 1 899), 
etc. One work worthy of special mention is his polyptych Women in the 
Garden (1890-91, Kunsthaus, Zurich). One of the four decorative 
panels of this set, that of a woman with a cat, is the forerunner of the 
left-hand part of the Hermitage triptych, depicting a lady with a white 
cat. The group of figures in the central part — children playing in a 
lively way — is typical of Bonnard, yet there are no direct counterparts 
to the figures of the Hermitage triptych. By contrast, the woman with 
a parrot in the right-hand part is a rare type of character which had 
previously occurred only once, in Woman with a Parrot (1910). Both 
that work and the present one seem to feature the same model, while 
the exotic bird, like the blue sea and the abundance of luxuriant 
vegetation, is intended as a reminder of the South. Bonnard’s early 
decorative works, such as Women in the Garden and even The Terrasse 
Family in the Garden (1896, Nationalgalerie, Berlin), follow Japanese 
principles of compositional arrangement. Later on, when painting 
large-scale decorative panels for Misia Serfs dining room (1906-10), 
he drew on the design of Baroque tapestries (hence, among other 
things, the magnificent borders) and theatre curtains. Bonnard would 
turn his mind to the art of old French and Flemish tapestry-makers and 
their treatment of the luxuriant tree-tops when he set to work on the 
Morozov triptych, but he never yielded to the temptation of stylisation. 
The panels for Misia Sert are splendidly painted, but confused in 
content. In a compact space we find images from Antiquity and 
contemporary life, from East and West. In this triptych Bonnard 
happily avoided the heterogeneity of subjects by using a simple and 
realistic motif. Bonnard found this motif in Saint-Tropez, where he 

stayed in June 1909 on a visit to Manguin at the Villa Demiere. It was 
at that time that he painted View of Saint-Tropez (Private Collection), 
from which the central part of the triptych derives. The tree in the 
middle and the tiled roofs behind it were already depicted in this study; 
however, Bonnard altered the composition when he went on to paint 
the large-scale panel. View of Saint-Tropez looks somewhat cramped, 
while in the triptych the artist avoided this by changing the viewpoint 
and eliminating a number of details. The general tone also changed, 
taking on a light, ethereal quality. Bonnard is unlikely to have had View 
of Saint -Tropez before his eyes when he was working on the triptych, 
as it was sold to the Bernheims in 1910. 

In September 1910 Bonnard revisited Saint-Tropez, this time at the 
invitation of Paul Simon. In a letter to his mother he wrote that the 
South had struck him like a scene from the Arabian Nights. His 
impressions from this short trip undoubtedly produced the triptych, 
which is set in autumn and not in spring. In the same letter he mentioned 
that during a visit to Simon’s neighbours he saw a dark-haired girl with 
a large blue parrot; he went on to say that he had become aware of the 
shingle, the low walls, the olive trees and the oaks. Perhaps that is why 
the upper part of the right-hand panel is occupied by an oak tree, and the 
tower part by a girl with a parrot. The parrot is not blue, however, as it 
was in Bonnard’s recollections and in his original depiction in Woman 
with a Parrot, but green; the change of colour was determined by the 
pictorial requirements of the composition. 

There are a number of landscapes painted in Saint-Tropez in 1910 
and in March 1911, when Bonnard visited it again. Among them only 
The Palm (1910) is close to View of Saint-Tropez and, consequently, to 
the central panel of the triptych. The triptych was finished by May 1911 
— at any rate, it was shown at Bonnard’s exhibition in the Bernheim- 
Jeune Gallery which opened on 17 May. After being displayed again at 
the Salon d’Automne, the triptych was sent to Moscow in November 
1911. The canvases were pasted directly onto the walls between the 
columns on the first floor above the grand staircase, with their upper 
comers trimmed to fit the shape of the capitals on the columns. 

In 1948, after the triptych was transferred to the Hermitage, the 
missing areas were restored, the canvases relined and placed on 





♦ Pierre Bonnard, Woman with Parrot, 1910. Oil on canvas, 104 x 122 cm. Private Collection. 



* 5 > 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, View of Saint-Tropez or The Alley, 1909. Oil on canvas, 53.5 x 63 cm, Private Collection. 



Early Spring in the Countryside 

Premiers jours de printemps a la campagne 


Oil on canvas. 365 x 347 cm 
Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow 

When in 1912 Ivan Morozov commissioned from Bonnard two 
additional panels to go with Mediterranean, the artist, without deviating 
from the decorative-monumental chord he had already struck, produced 
works which both harmonise with the triptych and contrast with it. The 
main elements uniting the series were the extensive areas of colour 
formed by the crowns of trees treated in a generalising manner. Yet, for 
all the similarity, one can sense that the trees in the new panels belong 
to a different, non-Mediterranean environment. Representing the North, 
in contrast to the South in the triptych, they turned out relatively dark, 
and when they were placed in the stairwell of Morozov’s mansion, they 
appeared darker still. Early Spring in the Countryside was on the left- 
hand side of the stairs. Visitors entering the house immediately noticed 
the radiant triptych, and only later turned their gaze to this “vernal” 
panel. Together with its autumnal pendant, this canvas was allocated a 
“supporting role”, and for that reason, even if for no other, Bonnard 
certainly had no intention of creating works in exactly the same spirit as 
the triptych. The dramaturgy of the suite as a whole now became more 
complex, taking account of the different way its various parts would be 
perceived as a person climbed the stairs. One is inevitably prompted to 
make comparisons between this suite and the ensemble which Matisse 
produced, also without ever visiting Moscow, for Sergei Shchukin. 
There is justification for such comparisons since Shchukin 
commissioned Music and The Dance in response to The Legend of Psyche 
series which Denis created for Morozov. After the stir which Matisse’s 
works aroused in Moscow, the ball was again in Morozov’s court, and 
he chose Bonnard to play it for him. Matisse began with The Dance so 
that the movement of the dancing figures and the general energy of the 
composition would draw visitors upstairs. The second act was provided 
by Music with a majestic sense of calm. Bonnard could not be expected 
to come up with dynamics in the manner of Matisse, but the spectacle 
he “put on” in Morozov’s mansion (without ever having been there) has 
in some ways a similar sort of logic to it. Mediterranean was also 
intended to lure people up to the first landing, although not as 
imperiously as Matisse’s Dance, using the attractive power of light, the 
calm pale blue of the sea and the luxuriant southern trees. Once on the 
landing, the visitor would turn to the flanking panel and find himself 
transported spiritually to a world of a different kind, ruled by a different, 
northern light, where the very spatial environment seems to be 
“shifting”. While Mediterranean is marked by strict proportionality, 
with the trunk of a tree in the central part which forms the axis of the 
triptych and the horizon which lies almost in the middle, in the flanking 

panels Bonnard followed the principle of old tapestries: he removed the 
line of the horizon above the edge of the canvas, heaving the surface of 
the Earth up towards the viewer, as it were, making it almost identical 
with the surface of the painting. This panel is woven from motifs 
deliberately shunned by “progressive” art at the beginning of the 
century — be it children’s frolics, a love scene or a young woman’s 
daydreams. Motifs of that kind were the stuff of cheap prints or, at the 
other extreme, of academic and salon compositions. Bonnard, however, 
had no qualms about using such material. He had no fear of hackneyed 
cliches, since an ironic intonation always came to his aid. 

The work which we should in all probability consider the first 
attempt at developing a composition of this type is the triptych The 
Public Garden (c. 1897, present whereabouts unknown), which 
remained at the sketch stage, but already contained the “plot” of the 
work done for Morozov with the dense crowns of trees in the 
background, children playing and adults relaxing in the foreground. 
The impetus had clearly come from Vuillard, who had begun depicting 
parks with people relaxing in them considerably earlier. In particular, 
Bonnard was quite familiar with Vuillard’s Park (1894, Jaffe 
Collection, New York) which then belonged to Thadee Natanson, and 
with his series of nine decorative panels, collectively known as Public 
Gardens, which were painted for Alexandre Natanson, also in 1894, 
and are now scattered among a number of Private Collections. Taking 
up the motif which Vuillard had used many times, from the outset 
Bonnard treated it in a freer and more picturesque manner and, what is 
particularly striking, introduced more humour. With the painting In the 
Garden at Grand-Lemps (1898), by moving the location from Paris to 
his native Dauphine, he took one more step towards the manner of 
painting which would eventually produce Spring and Autumn for 
Morozov. About that time, at Grand-Lemps, Bonnard took several 
photographs of his sister’s children, of whom he was very fond. He 
liked to depict them in his works and often did so; indeed some of the 
photographs taken in 1897-99 were subsequently used when he was 
painting Early Spring in the Countryside. Most probably Bonnard had 
Grand-Lemps in his mind when he was creating his panel in Paris for 
the Moscow mansion. “The house at Grand-Lemps was brought to life 
by Claude Terrasse’s children,” Antoine Terrasse recollected. 
“Bonnard, who always came back there in summer, watched all their 
games, the hoop races, the donkey rides, petting the basset hound or the 
cats, bathing in the garden pool. He shared in all their joys, all their 





activities, catching their comic charms, their gestures, gracious and 
clumsy, and prolonged his amusement in the studio which his mother 
had organised for him on the second floor of the house.” (A. Terrasse, 
Pierre Bonnard, Paris, 1967, p. 52) The panel was preceded by a small 
(70 x 64.5 cm) study which is now in a private Pails collection. The 
proportions of that work are slightly different, somewhat stretched in 
the vertical direction. The study is less detailed and some of the 
elements are presented differently in it. In the panel some things have 
been changed, particularly the reclining woman and the girl reaching 
out for the flower in the foreground who have traded places. Bonnard 
probably wanted to separate the world of childhood from that of the 
adults, and it is no coincidence that the resting woman, who seems to 
be daydreaming, is placed close to the pair of lovers behind the tree to 

the right. There are more children and their movement is stressed 
considerably more. This emphasis on the children’s gesticulation is in 
part a recognizable desire to celebrate their boisterous indefatigability, 
but in part also a reflection of the influence of Japanese woodcuts, 
which quite often depicted jerky poses in motion less familiar to 
European eyes. In the panel, the dark strip of water, which serves as a 
base for the whole landscape, was adorned with a swan in addition to 
the existing ducks — a detail which serves as a beginning and module 
for the painting. 

When exhibited at the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery the painting was 
simply entitled Spring. The longer title became attached to the work 
after it was installed in Morozov’s mansion. 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, The Family in the Garden, c. 1901. Oil on canvas, 109.5 x 127.5 cm, Kunsthaus, Zurich. 



♦ Pierre Bonnard, Cannet Landscape, 1946. Oil on canvas, Private Collection. 



Autumn. Fruit-Picking 

L ’Automne. La Cueillette des fruits 


Oil on canvas. 365 x 347 cm 
Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow 

This painting completed the decorative group on the staircase of 
Morozov’s mansion. As visitors climbed the stairs, the whole of the 
painting became visible. 

In composition the panel is highly Impressionistic. It is a slice of 
nature which the artist’s gaze apparently seized on by chance, without 
thinking of the principles of construction required for monumental 
works. Here Bonnard’s Impressionism, which expresses itself in the 
depiction of nature, is coupled with a variety of different features 
indicative of an accomplished master teasingly concealing his great 
artistic skill behind a seemingly unprepossessing view. As in Early 
Spring, Bonnard, without stylising the work “a la japonnaise", recalls 
the lessons of Japanese art. The foreground characters, for example, are 
reminiscent of woodcuts by Yoshitora, a mid-nineteenth century artist. 
The composition itself is flat and unfolds or develops from bottom to 
top, like the tree depicted in it, which again evokes associations with 
oriental painting. The use of this device is perhaps more justified here 
than in Early Spring. The huge tree occupies so much space and seems 
ready to dislodge everything else, but it cannot be regarded simply as a 
background. It is the chief character of this unusual work of art. The tree 
with people apparently attached to it may call to mind old depictions of 
the Tree of Jesse, although it is hardly likely that Bonnard had that idea 
consciously in mind. Undoubtedly, though, in Autumn the tree is 
perceived as a mighty symbol of nature. More than the other parts of the 
monumental decorative ensemble, Autumn is a thematic work in the 
“four seasons” tradition in which the different times of year are 
represented by scenes of work appropriate to them. On the left an 
elderly peasant is picking grapes; in the middle below is a young girl 
with a basket of grapes. When Bonnard exhibited the painting in the 
Bernheim-Jeune Gallery in 1913, it was given the double title Autumn. 
The Grape-Harvest. The very nature of the task here — to paint a panel 
directly or indirectly presuming the use of the calendar canons, in order 

to then practically disregard those canons — is a paradox quite typical 
of Bonnard. Puvis de Chavannes was the last major artist to treat the 
theme of seasonal agricultural labours in a traditional manner. Bonnard 
was undoubtedly familiar with his panel Autumn (1863-64, Musee des 
Beaux-Arts, Lyons). The woman stretching out to pick fruit in the right- 
hand part of Bonnard’s Autumn comes across almost as a parody on 
Puvis de Chavannes’s fruit-pickers. But in Bonnard’s work, in contrast 
to his predecessor’s, the human being is never presented in an idealized 
or heroic manner, and therefore the motif of labour may quite naturally 
dissolve into the landscape. The grape-pickers and other human figures 
tend not to be noticed immediately, as one’s attention is caught by the 
spreading crown of the immense willow which stands out tremendously 
against the dark background. Like Early Spring, the panel Autumn per- 
petuates memories of Grand-Lemps, Bonnard’s mother’s country estate. 
We can assume that somewhere in that area there was a great willow 
which had stuck in the artist’s memory since childhood, but the painting 
was of course a work of the imagination and not painted from nature. 
The banal scene of grape-picking was transformed into a composition 
so decorative that it puts one in mind of a theatre curtain. 

The desire to paint a decorative panel on the theme of fruit-picking 
appeared as far back as 1899 and was generated by a stay at Grand- 
Lemps. At that time he produced two canvases entitled Apple-Picking 
and another depicting Plum-Picking. Neither in their artistic merits nor 
in their scale are those earlier works comparable with the Autumn 
produced for Morozov, after which the artist never again returned to the 
harvesting theme. The painting in the Pushkin Museum was preceded 
by a sketch (1912, 72 x 68 cm, Maeght Gallery, Paris). The very title of 
this sketch, Landscape with Three Figures and a Willow, indicates that 
originally Bonnard was thinking of a pure landscape composition which 
lacked the figures on the left and in the centre and also the donkey-cart 
in the depth of the picture. 





♦ Pierre Bonnard, The Grand-Lemps, autumn , 1894. Oil on canvas, 22 x 27 cm, Private Collection. 



♦ Pierre Bonnard, Autumn Morning or The Grand View of Vernon, 1922. Oil on canvas, 106 x 129 cm, Collection of Mrs. Alex Lewyt. 



Summer. The Dance 

L Ete. La Danse 


Oil on canvas. 202 x 254 cm 
Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow 

In the early twentieth century, dance was a theme that attracted a 
great many avant-garde artists, from Edvard Munch to Derain, Picasso 
and Matisse. It also inspired Bonnard’s friends in the Nabi group, 
particularly Denis and Roussel. Like them, Bonnard turned to this motif 
without any intention of making it an instrument of radical format 
innovation as was the case with Picasso (Dance of the Veils, 1907, 
Hermitage) or Matisse ( The Dance, 1910, Hermitage). In Bonnard’s 
painting dance is not invested with symbolic functions. The motif of 
dancing has a subsidiary significance; at any rate, the painting was not 
designed around it. The figures here are entirely subordinated to the 
landscape. Their outlines echo the eccentric contours of the trees so 
strongly that at first glance one might take them for elements in the 
landscape, the more so since the patches of colour used to designate 
them are very close to the shades playing in the crowns of the trees or 
in the valley spreading out below. 

An exception was made only for the woman in the black dress who 
is carefully supporting a small girl. This woman, the pivotal figure for 
the whole compositions, is Marthe Bonnard. She and the artist were 
inseparable; she accompanied him on his travels. The year before, when 
he spent three extended periods working at Saint-Tropez, he painted 
several portraits of Marthe against the background of the sea or the lush 
coastal greenery. In Summer Marthe appears as a character in a genre 
composition, playing a role she never had in real life — that of a mother 
with young children. In late spring 1912, Bonnard went to Grasse where 
he began this large painting. He finished it after his return to Paris at the 
beginning of June, in time to include it in the exhibition of his latest 
works which opened in the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery on the 1 7th of that 
month. His stay in Grasse was a relatively short, but exceptionally 
productive one: the artist brought back from the south no less than ten 
paintings, the most important of which was the Moscow Spring. 

The second most significant work created in Grasse was Terrace 
(1912, location unknown), which presents in detail that part of the 
estate in Grasse with the balustrade which appears on the right in 

Summer. Bonnard, who was very fond of animals, did not resist the 
temptation to include the cats which featured in Terrace in the 
Moscow painting as well. The valley fringed with mountains near 
Grasse shown in the upper part of Summer is also depicted in Mountain 
Landscape or Landscape at Grasse (1912, Private Collection). The 
Moscow painting was evidently also preceded by Landscape with 
Goats or Olive Grove (1912, Museum Folkwang, Essen) with 
peacefully grazing animals and a sitting herdsman. In Summer these 
characters behave more actively: the goats are picking at a bush, while 
the herdsman plays a pipe, to the tune of which the girls are dancing. 
This last motif, which has given the painting its second title, was not, 
of course, Bonnard’s invention. It was used by other artists belonging 
to the Nabi circle: Maurice Denis in Shepherds and Roussel in The 
Triumph of Bacchus. 

Some of the works painted in Grasse vividly captured the 
impressions Bonnard gained on strolls in the vicinity of the town. Such 
canvases include, among others, Rural Scene or Corner of a Village 
(1912, Dial Collection, Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts), which 
is not a study for Summer, but one of the works which prepared the way 
for it. For the background of his composition, Bonnard chose the 
grounds of the Villa Antoinette near Grasse, which is where he himself 
lived. In so choosing, he did not restrict himself to reproducing a single 
impression as a true Impressionist would have done, but composed 
Summer out of several happy occasions during his stay. The other Nabis 
also composed their idylls in a similar manner, albeit with less striking 

In his work on the Moscow painting Bonnard developed the theme 
of the large panel with the same title which he had created three years 
earlier ( Summer, 1909, Maeght Foundation, Saint-Paul-de-Vence). 
Although the later work is smaller in size, it is marked by a far greater 
feeling of space. Summer in the Pushkin Museum is remarkable for its 
panoramic quality, a feature which became stronger precisely during 
Bonnard’s stay in Grasse. 





♦ Pierre Bonnard, Pleasure, 1906. Oil on canvas, 250 x 300 cm. Private Collection. 



♦ Pierre Bonnard, The Terrace at Grasse, 1912. Oil on canvas, 125 x 134 cm, Location unknown. 



Summer in Normandy 

L Ete en Normandie 


Oil on canvas. 114 x 128 cm 
Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow 

Maurice Denis began painting women in gardens, among trees, 
under the open sky, before Bonnard, but in his work such depictions had 
as a rule a symbolic charge to them. Bonnard was not a devotee of the 
ideological or literary message, which Denis rarely managed to avoid, 
so when he became fond of painting such motifs from 1 909 onwards, he 
satisfied himself with the simplest of subjects observed from nature. 
This enabled him to attain a maximum of unconstrained ease and 
freedom of expression. Such compositions frequently feature the artist’s 
wife Marthe, alone or with a friend. Marthe is quite often accompanied 
by a dog, either Ubu or Black; dogs were always a great object of 
affection for her. An example is Woman Reading or Woman with a Dog 
(1909). The subject of Summer in Normandy is a conversation between 
the two young women depicted in the foreground, but at the same time 
the landscape is not reduced to being merely the background for a genre 
scene. Here the artist used a device long-established in landscape 
painting — repoussoir, the darkening of the foreground — in a highly 
paradoxical manner, depicting the semi-recumbent Marthe and the dog 
settled at her feet in such a way that it requires some effort even to make 
out the details. Marthe becomes part of a sort of inner frame which the 
artist, not trusting an exterior frame to produce the desired effect, 
inventively introduces in order to give depth to the space. (The other 
elements of this frame are the poles of the awning and the protruding 
edge of the awning above.) Since the light falls on it, the figure of 
Marthe’s friend is more readily recognizable, but it too comes close to 
blending into the surrounding landscape. Her green dress, slightly more 
vivid in shade than the grass and trees, might even be called 
camouflage, if the word is suitable for describing such an elegant piece 
of clothing. The colours of her fair hair and half-shaded face are once 
again close to the hues of nature. Antoine Terrasse wrote of Summer in 
Normandy: “An enchanting painting with two figures, one in shade, the 
other in the light of a landscape, the majestic depth of which is stressed 
by its being framed in an awning. Is the shadow in the foreground a hill 
or a woman’s body? One hesitates to say straightaway what it is, so 
interconnected are these ripe curves. This is the puzzle posed to the 
dreamer or someone who suddenly wakes up in a landscape devoured 
by the sun.” (A. Terrasse, Pierre Bonnard, Paris, 1967, p. 97) 

In short, Bonnard’s beloved theme — the harmony of man and 
nature — which determined the contents of the large decorative 
ensemble he created for Morozov, is here not simply presented, but 
reproduced in the language of shapes and colours. The entire scene 
takes place on the terrace of “Ma Roulotte”. Bonnard purchased this 
house the same year that Summer in Normandy was painted. It was 
situated in Vernonnet near Vernon, just across the Seine from Giverny 
where Monet lived. The two artists visited each other quite often and 
we might suppose that the proximity of the leader of the 
Impressionists stimulated Bonnard in a particular manner. In any case, 
Summer in Normandy is one of his most Impressionistic works, though 
he never in the slightest sought to imitate the founders of that 
movement. While conveying the smooth flow of air, the vibration and 
play of light, which in an Impressionistic manner penetrates 
everywhere, even into the dense shadows, Bonnard remains, as it 
were, at the boundary which prevents his painting from becoming a 
copy of nature, without ever being far away from it. The decorative 
quality which was an inherent feature of Bonnard’s work is present 
here too, and probably reveals itself most eloquently in the depiction 
of the brickwork which the artist managed to turn into a highly 
attractive, picturesque detail. 

Bonnard differs also from the first-generation Impressionists in his 
gentle, unimposing inclusion of a psychological aspect. The women’s 
conversation was recreated by a man with a real knowledge of female 
nature. On this occasion the artist avoids deliberate “Japanese” 
gesticulation which would have been entirely out of place in the 
presence of this enchanted and enchanting nature. The depiction of the 
dogs reveals a talented painter of animals, one who understands their 
psychology, and that too sets Bonnard apart from Monet, Renoir, 
Pissarro and even Degas. In the foreground is Ubu, the artist’s own 
beloved pet, whose presence enlivened many of his paintings and 
drawings; behind is a light-coloured dog listening in an amusing way to 
the women’s chat. This dog also appears in several of Bonnard’s works, 
notably Garden Scene at Grand-Lemps (1912). 





Edouard Vuillard 
Ker Xavier Roussel 
Maurice Denis 
Felix Vallotton 



N A B I S 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, Misia with Roses, 1908. Oil on canvas, 1 14 x 146.5 cm, Private Collection. 



Although Bonnard, Vuillard, Denis, Roussel and Vallotton have 
gone down in the history of painting as artists belonging to a single 
group, their works, in spite of some common features, in fact display 
more differences than similarities. They were bound together in their 
youth by membership in a circle which bore a curious name — the 
Nabis. Art historians, who see the Nabis’ work as a special aspect of 
Post-Impressionism, have long resigned themselves to this purely 
conventional label. The word “Nabis” says next to nothing about the 
aims and methods of these artists, but probably on account of their very 
diversity it has proved impossible to replace the label by a more 
meaningful term, or at least one which fits better into the established 
scheme of things. The Hermitage in St Petersburg possesses a splendid 
collection of works by Bonnard and his friends. A much smaller 
collection of no lesser artistic merit is housed in the Pushkin Museum 
of Fine Arts in Moscow. All these works are presented in this book. 

An interest in Nabi painting arose very early in Russia. Here, as 
elsewhere in Europe, it emerged not among art lovers as a whole, but 
among a tiny group of art collectors who were ahead of the general 
public in their appreciation of new developments. Works by Bonnard, 
Denis and Vallotton found their way to Moscow, and later to St 
Petersburg, soon after they had been painted, some of them even being 
specially commissioned. In those days the purchase by Russian 
collectors of new French painting was a defiance of what was accepted 
as “good taste”. In contrast to earlier times, these new connoisseurs of 
painting came not from the aristocracy, but from the merchant class. 
Several well-educated representatives of the new type of up-and- 
coming entrepreneurs, used to relying on their own judgement, also 
became highly active and independently-minded figures in the art 
market. Two of them, Sergei Shchukin (1854-1937) and Ivan Morozov 
(1871-1921) formed collections which at the beginning of the twentieth 
century ranked among the best in the world. 

The name of Shchukin is probably more widely known, and this is 
not surprising: his boldness, seen by many of his contemporaries as 
mere folly, soon attracted attention. He had brought the most notable 
works of Henri Matisse, Andre Derain and Pablo Picasso to Moscow 
before Paris had had time to recover from the shock that they caused. 
Even today specialists are astonished by Shchukin’s unerring taste and 
keen judgement. He proved able to appreciate Matisse and Picasso at a 
time when “connoisseurs” still felt perplexed or even irritated by their 

paintings. The Nabis, however, attracted Shchukin to a lesser degree, 
perhaps because their work did not appear sufficiently revolutionary to 
him. He acquired one picture by Vuillard and several by Denis, among 
them the Portrait ofMarthe Denis, the Artist’s Wife, Martha and Mary and 
The Visitation. Later another canvas was added to these, Figures in a 
Springtime Landscape ( The Sacred Grove) — one of the most ambitious 
and successful creations of European Symbolism. It was passed on to 
Sergei Shchukin by his elder brother Piotr. But Shchukin failed to 
notice Bonnard. Regarding Cezanne, Van Gogh and Gauguin as the 
key-figures in Post-Impressionism, Shchukin — and he was not alone 
in this — saw the works of Bonnard and his friends as a phenomenon 
of minor importance. 

He did in fact make one attempt to “get into” Bonnard. In 1899, he 
bought Bonnard’s painting Fiacre at the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery, but 
later he returned it. Today it is in the National Gallery in Washington. 
Shchukin used to say that a picture needed to be in his possession for 
some time before he made his final decision about it, and art dealers 
accepted his terms. The man who really appreciated the Nabis and 
who collected their pictures over a considerable period of time was 
Ivan Morozov. His taste for their work must have been cultivated by 
his elder brother Mikhail, one of the first outside France to appreciate 
their painting. Mikhail Morozov owned Behind the Fence, the first 
work by Bonnard to find its way to Russia. He also had in his 
collection Denis’s Mother and Child and The Encounter. When in 1903 
Mikhail Morozov’s untimely death put an end to his activities as a 
collector, his younger brother took up collecting with redoubled 
energy, adding to his collection judiciously. Seeing in Bonnard and 
Denis the leading figures of the Nabi group, the best exponents of its 
artistic aims, he concentrated on their work. As a result, Bonnard and 
Denis were as well represented in his collection as the Impressionists, 
Cezanne and Gauguin. 

After purchasing Denis’s picture Sacred Spring in Guidel at the Salon 
des Independants in the spring of 1906, Morozov made a point of 
becoming acquainted with the artist. That summer he visited Denis at 
his home in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, where he bought the as yet 
unfinished Bacchus and Ariadne and commissioned Polyphemus as a 
companion piece. In the same year or at the beginning of the next, he 
placed his biggest order with Denis — The Legend of Psyche — a series 
of panels for his Moscow mansion in Prechistenka Street. At Morozov’s 



invitation, Denis came to Moscow to install the panels and add the 
finishing touches. Relations between the patron and the artist became 
firm and friendly. Morozov sought the Frenchman’s advice; at Denis’s 
prompting, for example, Morozov purchased one of Cezanne’s finest 
early works, Girl at the Piano. Denis introduced Morozov to Maillol. 
The result of this acquaintance was a commission for four large bronze 
figures which later adorned the hall containing Denis’s decorative 
panels, superbly complementing them. 

The second ensemble of decorative panels commissioned by 
Morozov is even more remarkable when seen today. Created by 
Bonnard, it comprised the triptych Mediterranean and the panels Early 

Spring in the Countryside and Autumn. Fruit-Picking. At Morozov’s 
suggestion Bonnard also painted the pair of works, Morning in Paris and 
Evening in Paris. Together with the triptych, these rank among 
Bonnard’s greatest artistic achievements. 

St Petersburg had no collectors on the scale of Sergei Shchukin and 
Ivan Morozov. Only Georges Haasen, who represented a Swiss 
chocolate firm in the then capital of Russia, collected new French 
painting. Fie was especially interested in artists like the Nabi group. 
Among other works, he had in his collection Bonnard’s The Seine near 
Vernon and six paintings by Vallotton (all now in the Hermitage). 
Haasen knew Vallotton well: the artist stayed with him in St Petersburg 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, Fiacre, 1895. Oil on wood, 30 x 40 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington. 



and painted portraits of the businessman himself and of his wife. No 
complete list of the works in Haasen’s collection has survived, but there 
is enough information to indicate that it was very well put together. The 
catalogue of the St Petersburg exhibition “A Hundred Years of French 
Painting” held in 1912 contains a number of works by Bonnard, 
Vuillard, Roussel and Vallotton from Haasen’s collection that were not 
among those which entered the Hermitage in 1921. 

There was one more Russian collector who showed interest in the 
Nabis, Victor Golubev, but he took up residence in Paris. The two 
canvases belonging to him at the 1912 St Petersburg exhibition — 
Vuillard’s Autumn Landscape and Denis’s St George — were actually 

sent from France. The exhibition betokened a genuine recognition of 
new French art: on display were the finest works by Manet, Renoir, 
Monet, Cezanne and Gauguin. 

The salon idols, who still had many admirers among the public, were 
represented by only a few works, while there were 24 Renoirs, 17 
Cezannes and 21 Gauguins. The Nabis were, of course, represented on a 
more modest but still creditable scale: six paintings by Bonnard, five 
each by Roussel and Denis, four by Vuillard and two each by Vallotton 
and Serusier. Their works effectively formed the final element in the 
exhibition. They could no longer be regarded as the last word in French 
art, but they were the latest thing considered acceptable by the organizers 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, The Pont du Carrousel, c. 1903. Oil on canvas, 71.4 x 100 cm, Los Angeles County Museum, gift of Mr and Mrs Sidney F. Brody. 



of this diverse artistic panorama which occupied over 20 rooms in Count 
Sumarokov-Elstone’s house in Liteny Prospekt. This was undoubtedly 
one of the most significant art exhibitions of the early twentieth century, 
not only in Russia, but in the whole of Europe. Even today one cannot 
help marvelling at its scope and at the aptness in the choice of many 
works. At the same time the catalogue shows its organisers’ desire to 
avoid excessive radicalism. It was, after all, a purely St Petersburg affair, 
a joint venture of the Apollon (Apollo) magazine and the French Institute, 
which at that time was located in St Petersburg. The Institute’s director, 
Louis Reau, was a prominent art historian. The great Moscow collectors 
did not contribute to the exhibition, although Ivan Morozov was a 
member of its honorary committee. 

By that time in Moscow, where artistic life was far more turbulent 
than in St Petersburg, painting of the type represented by the Nabis had 
been ousted by the more audacious and striking manifestations of the 
avant-garde, both Russian and foreign. Whereas at the 1908 “Golden 
Fleece” exhibition, Bonnard, Vuillard, Denis, Serusier and Roussel 
were well represented, the following year their pictures were no longer 
on show. However, the organizers of the 1909 exhibition included 
works by Matisse, Derain, Vlaminck and Braque. The “Izdebsky 
Salon”, a fairly large international exhibition arranged by Vladimir 
Izdebsky which in 1910 visited Odessa, Kiev, St Petersburg and Riga, 
presented not only works by Matisse, Kees van Dongen, Vlaminck 
Rouauft and Braque, but also by Larionov, Kandinsky, Jawlensky, 
Bechtejeff, Altman and many others. In sharp contrast there were only 
a few Nabi paintings. Neither Russian nor Western European art lovers 
had turned their backs on the art of Bonnard and his companions, but it 
had receded into the background. The opinion took root that these artists 
were of minor importance, and several decades were to pass before this 
myth was finally dispelled. The reason for the rise of the myth was that 
the Nabis stood apart from the mainstream of the various antagonistic 
movements in art, torn by strife on the eve of the First World War. But 
Time, that great arbiter, has lifted the veil of obscurity from the Nabis, 
once again revealing the merits of their art, and placing Bonnard among 
the most brilliant colourists that France has ever produced. 

The generation of Bonnard and his companions came to the fore in 
artistic life at the close of the nineteenth century. Nurtured by the 
colourful era known as the belle epoque, they themselves contributed 
much to it. The history of nineteenth-century French art may be divided 
up in different ways. If however one is guided by the most fundamental 
cultural distinctions, a pattern of three periods approximately equal in 
length can be drawn. The first, which began when the principles of 
Classicism still reigned supreme, saw the emergence of the Romantic 
movement. The second was dominated by Realism which appeared 
sometimes on its own, sometimes in interaction with Romanticism and 
even with a form of Classicism lapsing into Academicism. The third 

♦ Maurice Denis, Martha and Mary, 1896. Oil on canvas, 77 x 116 cm, 
Hermitage, St Petersburg. 



period was marked by a greatly increased complexity in the problems 
tackled by the artists. Influences of earlier times could still be traced in the 
various artistic styles, but only to highlight the new and unusual artistic 
manifestations. The development of painting gathered an unprecedented 
momentum. Its idiom became enriched by numerous discoveries. 
Impressionism assumed the leading role, in spite of the hostility shown 
toward it in official circles, by the general public and by most painters. 

The last three decades of the nineteenth century were among the 
greatest and richest in French art. They were staggering in their volcanic 
creative activity. One brilliant constellation of artists was followed by 
the rise of another. Younger painters rapidly caught up with their older 
colleagues, competing with them. Moreover, the appearance of a 
dazzling new movement in art was not followed by a lull, a pause in 

development, which could have a historical justification — to give that 
movement time to strengthen its influence. On the contrary, no sooner 
had the roar of one gigantic wave subsided, than another came rolling 
implacably behind it, and so on, wave after wave. 

The main “disturber of the peace” in the 1860s was Edouard Manet. 
His works caused a revolution in painting, blazing the way for a new 
style — Impressionism. The 1870s were decisive years in the 
Impressionists’ battle to assert their new, unbiased approach to reality, 
their right to use bright pure colours, wholly appropriate to the 
wonderful freshness of their perception of the world. The 1880s were 
marked by more developments. Proceeding from the discoveries of 
Monet and his fellow Impressionists, Seurat and Signac on the one 
hand, and Gauguin on the other, mapped out entirely new directions in 

♦ Maurice Denis, Polyphemus , 1907. Oil on canvas, 81 x 116 cm, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow. 



♦ Pierre Bonnard, Breakfast Room in the Country, 1934-1935. Oil on canvas, 127 x 135 cm, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York. 



painting. The views of these artists were completely different. The 
“scholarly” approach of the first two Neo-Impressionists ran counter to 
the views of Gauguin and the Pont-Aven group of which he was the 
leader. These artists owed a great deal to medieval art. Meanwhile 
Vincent van Gogh, who had by that time moved from Holland to 
France, led the way in another direction: his main concern was to 
express his inner feelings. All these artists had moved a good distance 
away from Impressionism, yet each owed a great deal to the revolution 
that Manet had brought on. When Seurat and Gauguin exhibited their 
pictures at the last exhibition of the Impressionists held in 1886, their 
divergence was already clearly marked. Naturally, among the 
“apostates” one ought to name the two contemporaries of the 
Impressionists — Redon, and, above all, Cezanne, who from the start 
recognized not only the enormous merits of Impressionist painting, but 
also saw traits in it which threatened to lead to shallowness and to the 
rejection of the eternal truths of art. 

Soon a new term — Post-Impressionism — made its appearance. It 
was not a very eloquent label, but it came to be widely used. The 
vagueness of the label was not accidental. Some of the French artists 
who were initially inspired by the Impressionistic view of the world 
later left Impressionism behind, each pursuing his own path. This gave 
rise to an unprecedented stylistic diversity which reached its peak 
between the late 1880s and the beginning of the twentieth century. No 
name could possibly be adequate in this situation. 

Even from anti-academic points of view. Impressionism could seem 
narrow and insufficient as a means of artistic expression, yet it still 
remained a force which no artist of talent, at least in France, could 
ignore. Not only Seurat, Gauguin, Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec 
came to be regarded as Post-Impressionists, but also Redon and 
Cezanne, and even Matisse and Picasso. For example, in 1912 the last 
two artists displayed their work at the second exhibition of Post- 
Impressionists at the Grafton Gallery in London. More recently, 
however, art historians have tended to limit Post-Impressionism to the 
nineteenth century. The revolution brought on by the Impressionists, 
and its aftermath, Post-Impressionism, became the most important force 
in the development of art from the 1860s through the 1890s, and it 
would probably be no exaggeration to say that it influenced artistic 
evolution throughout the twentieth century. 

Any really creative artist living in Paris who embarked on his career 
in the late 1880s, when Impressionism was drawing to its close, was 
almost inevitably “doomed” to become a Post-Impressionist. So it is 
hardly surprising that a small group of artists, calling themselves the 
Nabis — Bonnard, Vuillard and Denis among them — readily joined 
this broad new movement which speedily gained authority among 
painters outside the academic circle. With the advent of the twentieth 

♦ Felix Vallotton, Landscape at Rocamadour, 1925. Oil on canvas, 92 x 73 cm, Private Collection. 



♦ Pierre Bonnard, Normandy Landscape, 1920-1930. Oil on canvas, 62 x 80 cm, Northampton (Mass.), Smith College Museum of Art. 



♦ Pierre Bonnard, The Gardener, 1908. Oil on canvas, 85 x 93 cm, Private Collection. 



century, when the age of Post-Impressionism was approaching its end, 
these artists would be faced with the necessity of making a new choice: 
either to follow the style of their youth or to rally to the banners of new, 
more radical movements. But for the Nabis, the question never seriously 
arose. All their background and artistic experience made them little 
disposed towards Fauvism and even less towards Cubism or any other 
modern style. Bonnard was a little more than two years older than 
Matisse, Vuillard was even closer in age, and though they sincerely 
respected Matisse as an artist, they could not share his ideas. This does 
not mean that their intention was to adhere assiduously to their earlier 
manner. They realised that by acting that way they would be doing no 
more than marking time and consequently condemning themselves to 
failure. The real alternative lay in each member of the group developing 
his own artistic personality. This was bound to conflict with the 
aspirations of the group as a whole and disrupt its joint efforts. The 
growing individuality in each artist’s work undermined the group’s 
unity. At the same time, this process clarified the position of these artists 
in the art world. It showed that some of them had become figures of 
European standing, while others were no more than members of a 
transient group. 

Of course, the Nabi artists had never followed one particular style. 
Each member of the group pursued his own course, regardless of the 
stylistic, ideological and religious ideas of the others. In this respect the 
group was unique. This is not to say that the Nabis did not have a 
common artistic platform. Without it the group could hardly have 
formed and existed as long as it did. 

The group came into being in 1888. The event was connected with 
the Academie Julian in Paris. The reader should not be misled by this 
high-sounding name: the word “academie” was used in the French 
capital with reference to all sorts of private studios. Among them, the 
Academie Julian, founded in 1860, probably enjoyed the best 
reputation. Artists attended this studio because they could find a 
model there, and many prepared there for entrance examinations to the 
Ecole des Beaux-Arts. The atmosphere in the studio was less formal 
than at the Ecole, but the professors as authoritative; in fact, often 
enough the same academic celebrities taught at the Academie and the 
Ecole. The students at the studio were a very mixed bag. Shared 
backgrounds, artistic temperament and talent very quickly drew them 
together into groups that came apart just as easily as they were 
formed. The centre of attraction was Paul Serusier. Ele was, at 25, 
older than his fellow-students, the head of the class and better 
educated than the rest. The painting exhibited at the 1888 Salon had 
gained him an honourable mention. With his inclination to discuss 
matters and his ability to express his ideas clearly and eloquently, he 
easily won listeners. The main subject of Serusier’s discourses was the 
experience he gained in Brittany from where he had returned in 

♦ Edouard Manet, Argenteuil, 1874. Oil on canvas, 148.9 x 115 cm, Musee des Beaux Arts, Tournai. 



October 1888 deeply influenced by the ideas of Synthetism. He 
assumed the role of champion of “the last word” in painting passed on 
to him by Gauguin at Pont-Aven. 

Serusier was completely under the spell of his encounter with 
Gauguin. But the most important thing was that he brought back with 
him The Talisman (Musee d’Orsay, Paris). This small landscape study 
hurriedly painted on a piece of board was to become a true talisman 
for a small group of students at the Academie Julian. With a 

sacramental air, Serusier showed the panel to Bonnard, Denis, Ibels 
and Ranson. Later Vuillard and Roussel joined “the initiated”. The 
study, painted in the Bois d’ Amour outside Pont-Aven, depicts 
autumnal trees reflected in a pond. Each area of colour in this work is 
given in such a generalized fashion that the object depicted is not 
easily recognized, and, turned upside down, the picture becomes an 
abstract. The study was made under the guidance of Gauguin, who 
demanded: “How do you see that tree? It is green? Then choose the 
most beautiful green on your palette. And that shadow? It is more like 

♦ Paul Gauguin, Cafe at Arles, 1888, Oil on canvas, 72 x 92 cm, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow. 


♦ Pierre Bonnard, Sailing (The Hahnloser Family), 1924. Oil on canvas, 98 x 103 cm, Private Collection, Switzerland. 



♦ Pierre Bonnard, Josse Bemheim-Jeune and Gaston Bernheim de Villiers, 1920. Oil on canvas, 165.5 x 155.5 cm, Musee d’Orsay, Paris. 



blue? Then don’t hesitate to paint it with the purest blue possible.” 29 
The words are cited differently in different sources, but all versions 
contain the same main idea: an exhortation to simplify the methods of 
painting, beginning with the simplification of the artist’s palette and an 
increase in its dynamism. “This is how we learned,” recollected Denis, 
“that all works of art are a kind of transposition, a certain caricature, the 
passionate equivalent of an experienced sensation. This was the starting 
point of an evolution in which we at once became engaged.” 30 

The seed had fallen upon fertile ground. Comparing The Talisman 
and the works of the Impressionists and their followers seen in the 
Durand-Ruel, Boussod and Valadon galleries with the popular paintings 
exhibited in the Musee du Luxembourg and the works of their own 
teachers, the young painters could not but fall under the spell of this new 
mode of painting, with its vitality and brilliant colour. 

Of course, Serusier and his attentive audience were by no means 
unanimous in their interpretation of the arguments of the leader of the 
Pont-Aven school. While for Serusier the simplification of colour 
seemed a tempting gateway into the realm of symbols (and Denis was 
ready to agree with him), Bonnard and Vuillard, who did not wish to 
leave the precincts of painting as such, hoped that these devices would 
help to open up promising decorative resources. Though their own 
artistic experience was still rather limited, all of them were able to 
appreciate the beauty of resonant colours, no matter how unorthodox 
the means used to achieve them were. 

It so happened that those students of the Academie Julian who dis- 
played the greatest talent in painting felt drawn towards one another and 
began by gathering round Serusier. Among the other students, these 
young artists stood out with their superior cultural level: they were well- 
read, loved poetry and the theatre. This too helped to establish close ties 
between them. Soon they started meeting outside classes. Feeling that 
their association had a special significance, they decided to call 
themselves the Nabis. This name, a password for the group and a 
mystery for outsiders, was suggested by one of their friends, Auguste 
Cazalis, then a student at the School of Oriental Languages. 

The meetings of the Nabis were characterised by lively 
conversations on a wide range of subjects, more often than not 
connected with painting or literature. It is true that Serusier and, to a 
lesser extent, Denis were inclined to give themselves airs, but the rest 
preferred a merry atmosphere and enjoyed a good joke. This was quite 
natural: they were all young. On Saturdays they met in Ranson’s 
studio, played charades (popular at the time), staged little puppet 
shows, read poetry. Once a month, and this with time became a ritual, 
they gathered in a small, modest restaurant called L’Os a Moelle (The 
Marrowbone). Each member of the group had a nickname: Paul 

♦ Vincent Van Gogh, Portrait of Doctor Paul Gachet, 1 890. Oil on canvas, 68 x 57 cm, Musee d’Orsay, Paris. 



Serusier, for example, was called “Nabi a la barbe rutilante” (Nabi with 
the sparkling beard), Denis bore the name “Nabi aux belles icones” 
(Nabi of the beautiful icons), Bonnard’s nickname was “Nabi 
japonard” (the Nipponised Nabi), Vuillard — “Zouave”, Verkade — 
“Nabi obeliscal” (the obeliskal Nabi), and Valloton, who joined the 
group in 1892, “Nabi etranger” (the foreign Nabi). 

From time to time the Nabis gathered in the editorial offices of the 
recently-founded magazines Mercure de France and Revue Blanche or in 
Le Bare de Boutteville’s gallery, where at that time they usually 
exhibited their works. But their main meeting place remained Ranson’s 
studio on the Boulevard Montparnasse, which they styled the “Temple”. 
The walls of the “Temple” were adorned with decorative pieces by 
Denis, Vuillard, Bonnard and Roussel. They were executed on paper 
and, unfortunately, have not survived. In 1891 Bonnard, Vuillard, Denis 
and Lugne-Poe rented a workshop in the Rue Pigalle, which was 
frequented by other members of the Nabi circle. With the coming of 
spring, they spent Sundays at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, in Denis’s house, 
or at l’Etang-la-Ville, with Roussel’s family. Unlike the rest of the 
Nabis, Ranson and these two artists had married and settled down to a 
more or less steady home life. Even in summer the Nabis remained 
faithful to their fellowship: Serusier, Verkade and Ballin, for instance, 
visited Brittany together. In 1 895, Thadee Natanson, the publisher of the 
Revue Blanche, and his charming wife Misia, whom both Renoir and 
Bonnard painted many times, entertained Vuillard and Vallotton at their 
home in Valvin. The following year the couple moved to Villeneuve- 
sur-Yonne, where over the course of several years Bonnard, Vuillard, 
Roussel and also Toulouse-Lautrec were invited to their home. 
Members of the Nabi group often entertained Maillol, whom they held 
in great esteem. Three or four times they were visited by Gauguin. The 
“Temple” was frequented by the composers Chausson, Hermand and 
Claude Terrasse (Bonnard’s brother-in-law). Denis introduced to the 
Nabis his fellow-student from the Lycee Condorcet, Lugne-Poe, who 
was soon to gain prominence on the French stage both as an actor and 
producer. Lugne-Poe had introduced the Parisian public to Ibsen, 
Strindberg and other outstanding dramatists of the time. Through him 
the Nabis entered the theatrical world. They designed stage sets and 
theatrical programmes for Lugne-Poe’s productions. They even 
appeared on the stage as extras, taking part, for example, in the much 
talked about Ubu Roi by Jarry. Members of the Nabi group were 
personally acquainted and often friendly with many contemporary 
French authors — Alfred Jarry, Francis Jammes, Jules Renard, Tristan 
Bernard, Edouard Dujardin and Andre Gide — so it is hardly surprising 
that they illustrated their books. While at the Lycee, Maurice Denis 
became acquainted with Marcel Proust. He was also on close terms with 
Andre Gide in whose company he travelled all over Italy. Mallarme 
taught English at the Lycee Condorcet. The Nabis greatly admired his 
poetry and some of them kept in touch with him after leaving the Lycee. 

♦ Paul Serusier, Bretons Wrestlers, 1890. Oil on canvas, 92 x 73 cm, Musee d’Orsay, Paris. 

♦ Paul Serusier, The Talisman, 1888. Oil on canvas, 27 x 21.5 cm, Musee d’Orsay, Paris. 



♦ Pierre Bonnard, Breakfast by the Radiator, c. 1930. Oil on canvas, 74 x 84 cm, Private Collection. 



N A B I S 


♦ Pierre Bonnard, Tea in the Garden, 1891. Oil, black ink and pencil on canvas, 38 x 46 cm, Private Collection. 



More than half of the Nabis attended the Lycee Condorcet, 
undoubtedly one of the finest in Paris and perhaps the best as far as its 
humanities programme was concerned. It played an important role in 
fostering a taste for literature in its students. Curiously enough, not one 
of the Nabis had ever won a prize for art at the Lycee, while Vuillard 
and Roussel gained the first and second prizes for history. A shared 
interest in literature, history and aesthetics helped to form firm ties 
between people of very different convictions. The friendship which 
sprung up in their Lycee years proved stronger than the artistic and 
religious differences which arose later. 

Their fellowship expressed itself at times through naive and even 
childish features, for example, the ritual formula, modelled on those of 
ancient fraternities, with which they finished their letters: “En ta paume, 
mon verbe et ma pensee” (My words and thoughts are in your palm). On 
occasion these words were reduced to an abbreviation: 
“E.T.P.M. V.E.M.P.” Whatever the reason, it is a fact that for many years 
their friendship was never dimmed by resentment, envy or 

In works on the history of art, the Nabis are at times equated with 
other groups and movements which existed for a short period and then 
dissolved. This conception is fraught with inconsistencies. Can the Nabi 
circle be regarded as a distinct movement? Yes and no. Some common 
features may be traced in their work, but the kinship between them is at 
two removes if not more. It is not by chance that at some recent 
exhibitions painters of this group have been ascribed to different 
movements. For example, works by Denis, Serusier and even Vallotton 
were included in the widely representative exhibition of European 
Symbolism held in 1975-76 in Rotterdam, Brussels, Baden-Baden and 
Paris, 31 while neither Bonnard, Vuillard nor Roussel were featured. It is 
true that some traces of Symbolism may be found in the works of the 
last three painters, but they are so rare and so faint that these artists 
cannot possibly be regarded as Symbolists. However, Bonnard, Vuillard 
and Roussel always paid considerable attention to the painterly aspects 
of their work and so they had certain points of contact with the Fauves. 
That explains why their works are now and again shown at the same 
exhibition. The exhibition of the Nabis and Fauves held in the Zurich 
Kunsthaus in 1983 32 may serve as an example. It is noteworthy that 
paintings by Denis and Serusier were not included in this exhibition. 

The Nabis were not simply a group of artists using similar painterly 
devices and the same strategy in the struggle to exhibit their works, as 
was the case with the Neo-Impressionists or the Fauves. They were a 
kind of fraternity, hence their desire to be tolerant of each other despite 
the many differences between them. It is difficult for such a fraternity, 
based not on discipline but on shared aesthetic conceptions, to survive 
for long. All the more surprising, then, is the fact that the group 

♦ Henri-Gabriel Ibels, At the Circus, 1893. Color lithograph. Hermitage, St Petersburg. 



♦ Paul Ranson, The Tiger, 1893. Color lithograph. Hermitage, St Petersburg. 




continued to exist until 1900. Personal relations and in certain cases 
family ties held the group together, though the activities of the group, or 
at least of some of its members, soon might well have appeared naive 
and even anachronistic. 

In fact, the activities of the group were for most of the Nabis to some 
extent a kind of game, one that with time lost its attraction. Differences 
in temperament, in personal inclinations and outlook were sooner or later 
bound to affect the relationship between the Nabis. True, they all wor- 
shipped Baudelaire, Mallarme and Verlaine, they loved Gauguin, 
sincerely admired such disparate artists as Cezanne and Van Gogh; they 
delighted in old stained-glass windows, Breton crucifixes and popular 
prints from Epinal (images d’Epinal); they were all interested in folk 
legends, traditional country festivals and ancient rituals. Yet though they 
shared these interests, each had his own preferences. A certain coolness 
could not but exist between Serusier, an ardent Catholic, and Roussel and 
who were confirmed atheists. Neither was it easy for Serusier, with his 
inclination to doctrinarianism, to find a common language with Bonnard, 
who would never thrust his opinions upon others. Perhaps of no lesser 
importance was that whereas the former was almost devoid of a sense of 
humour, the latter was endowed with a very strong one. 

While admiring Gauguin and medieval art, Degas and Japanese 
woodcut prints, each member of the Nabi group saw them in a different 
way. Here, preference was dictated by personal convictions and taste. 
These differences from the very beginning divided the group into two 
parties. Serusier, Denis and Verkade wished to follow Gauguin and 
drew on the art of the Middle Ages, whereas Bonnard, Vuillard and 
Vallotton felt an affinity with Degas and Japanese artists. Thus the 
nicknames given to Bonnard and Denis, which they readily accepted, 
reflected their aesthetic inclinations. The names in each case defined the 
source of their art and, ultimately, that of the two Nabi parties, one of 
which gravitated towards a vivid, dynamic representation of life, the 
other towards a more religious, stylized and symbolic representation. 
Both wings agreed that art should not aim to copy nature. They saw it 
above all as “a means of expression” 33 and recognized that there was “a 
close connection between forms and emotions”. 34 The theory of 
equivalences was the foundation of Nabi aesthetics. This may well 
provide the explanation for the respect which each member of the 
fraternity felt for the work of the others. 

The fact that the Nabis regarded very different artists with equal 
esteem — Gauguin and Cezanne, Redon and Puvis de Chavannes — 
may be explained by their genuine respect for individuality. It is easy to 
see what attracted them in Odilon Redon with his air of mystery and 
subtle colour nuances, or in Puvis de Chavannes with his profound 
understanding of the essence of monumental painting. The works of the 
young Nabis from time to time betrayed a hint of the influence of these 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, Balcony at Vernonnet, 1920. Oil on canvas, 100 x 78 cm, Musee des Beaux- Arts, Brest. 

♦ Felix Vallotton, View of Cagne from horseback, Oil on canvas, 80.5 x 60 cm, M.C.B.A. Lausanne. 



two artists. With Cezanne, whom they discovered very early, when his 
works could be found only in a small shop kept by Le Pere Tanguy, the 
question becomes more difficult. Did he influence them? Neither 
Bonnard, Vuillard, Denis nor any other representative of the group can 
be considered followers of Cezanne. They moved in an entirely 
different direction from that taken by the vanguard Impressionist. 
Cezanne’s work served them as an example of great skill. To be able to 
appreciate his art in the early 1 890s, when with the exception of a few 
close friends, art lovers saw his canvases as nothing but daubs, not only 
proved independent judgement, but also revealed an uncommonly high 
degree of painterly culture. It is thus not surprising that the writer Sar 
Peladan, for example, an idol of Symbolism who was in great vogue 
about 1 890, at least among a considerable section of the public, failed 
to impress the Nabis, although they themselves were by no means 
indifferent to Symbolism. They also remained unmoved by the English 
painters Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones, who were 
much talked about in artistic circles throughout Europe. 

The Nabis, particularly those who sided with Serusier, doubtlessly 
shared some of the important ideas inherent in Symbolism. Since they 
discussed among themselves all notable artistic events in Paris, they 
were well acquainted not only with the works of Puvis de Chavannes, 
Redon or Gustave Moreau (whom they rated less highly, evidently 
because of his approach to colour), but also with the works of foreign 
Symbolists belonging to various trends. At the Exposition Universelle 
of 1889 they would naturally have seen the works of the British artists 
Burne-Jones, Millais, Watts and Crane, and of the Italian Previati. 
Moreover, Burne-Jones was a regular exhibitor at the Societe Nationale 
des Beaux- Arts from the time of its foundation in 1890. In that year the 
Salon also featured works by the Belgian artist Leon Frederic and the 
German Ludwig von Hofmann; in 1891, works by the Swiss artist 
Hodler and the Finn Gallen-Kallela. Foreign artists, including the 
Belgians Delville, Mellery and Khnopff, and the Dutchman Toorop, 
were represented in the salons of the “Rose + Croix”, arranged by 
Peladan from 1892 to 1897. 

The Nabis’ lukewarm reaction to these Symbolists was no 
manifestation of patriotism. Rather they found their works lacking in 
artistic merits. The French artists who joined the Symbolist movement 
always paid special attention to the use of colour. Not only Gauguin and 
Redon, whose achievements as colourists were so astonishing that that 
factor alone makes it impossible to regard their work solely within the 
framework of Symbolism, but also less gifted artists such as Seguin, 
who was close to the Nabis, and other followers of Gauguin produced 
works characterized by a more complex painterly texture, and by more 
subtle and original colour harmonies. The understanding of the role of 
colour evinced by the British, German and Belgian Symbolists seemed 
to the Nabis narrow, or simply dull and academic. 

♦ Felix Vallotton, Landscape at sunset, 1919. Oil on canvas, 46 x 55 cm, Private Collection. 



♦ Pierre Bonnard, The Cote d’Azur, c. 1923. Oil on canvas, 79 x 76 cm, The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC. 



♦ Maurice Denis, The Muse, 1893. Oil on canvas, 137.5 x 171.5 cm, Musee d’Orsay, Paris. 

♦ Maurice Denis, Homage to Cezanne, 1900. Oil on canvas, 180 x 240 cm, Musee d’Orsay, Paris. 



Many aspects of non-academic art also remained alien to the Nabis 
from a purely colouristic point of view. They were never tempted, for 
example, to try their hand at Neo-Impressionism. The exponents of 
this style aimed at achieving the utmost intensity of light, close to 
reality, using the technique of separate dabs of paint and the optical 
mixing of pure spectral colours. Colour for the sake of light — that 
was never an issue for the Nabis, nor was the choice between colour 
and light. Colour invariably remained of paramount importance for 
this group of artists. Their colour schemes were most often based on 
subtle, even elusive gradations of tones, and were in themselves 
usually rather subdued. 

The colour solutions characteristic of the Nabis may be explained by 
the artists’ attitude towards what they depicted. This attitude was far 
from the immediacy of the first Impressionists. While rejecting the 
rapid, casual approach of Monet and Sisley, they remained faithful to 
accurate visual perception. Their preference was for the eternal rather 
than the transient. A painting by Bonnard, Vuillard or Denis is, of 
course, correlated with the object it depicts, but not with it alone. In 
their works one can always discover a number of subtle associations 
which place the picture in a definite artistic and historical context. 
Works by the Nabis are always decorative, and this precludes a 
naturalistic interpretation of them. At the same time, this decorativeness 

♦ Paul Cezanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire, 1 882- 1 885. Oil on canvas, 58 x 72 cm, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow. 



shows that these paintings belong to an artistic system, which is 
structurally close to other systems. Those other systems may be far 
removed in time and space, but that fact is irrelevant to their art. In 
Bonnard’s works we find parallels with Japanese prints, in Denis’s with 
the murals of the late Middle Ages and the early Renaissance. 

Such a tendency to look back may at its worst have led to mere 
stylization. However, Bonnard and Vuillard established fruitful links 
with earlier art. It was not a matter of iconographic borrowing, though 
this did take place, but rather a kind of compression of artistic 
significations: a work is seen not solely as a reflection of the reality 

surrounding the artist, but also in the context of a long-existing, well- 
developed tradition, at times very unexpected for the artist’s 
contemporaries. Denis, the chief theoretician of the group, even invented 
a word to denote this phenomenon, Neotraditionalism. It is easy to see 
that Denis’s art does indeed fall under this heading. The issue is more 
difficult with such artists as Vuillard, but in his work too, links with 
artistic traditions of the past are clearly evident. He owes a great debt to 
eighteenth-century art, to Japanese woodcuts and to highly decorative 
French printed cloths. These correlations reveal a very important 
peculiarity of Nabi art: in comparison with the work of their immediate 
forerunners, it makes especial demands of the viewer and requires a good 

♦ Felix Vallotton, Outskirts of Lausanne, 1893. Oil on wood, 24 x 34 cm. Private Collection. 



N A B I S 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, The Cherry Tart, 1908. Oil on canvas, 115 x 123 cm, Private Collection, Zurich. 


N A B I S 


♦ Pierre Bonnard, Afternoon Landscape, 1945. Oil on canvas, 95 x 125 cm, Milwaukee Art Museum, gift of Mr and Mrs Harry Lynde Bradley. 




knowledge of the history of art. An Impressionist picture is easily 
understood without this, as long as the viewer knows how to look at it. 

A new understanding of the aims of painting, determined by a more 
complex approach to the inner meanings of the image, is one of the most 
distinctive marks of Post-Impressionism. In some cases the approach 
owed a great deal to the artistic systems of the East. Although oriental 
art was only one source of the stylistic changes taking place at that time, 
it is particularly clear that the Nabis, moving in the same direction as 
Van Gogh, Gauguin, Redon, and (partly) Toulouse-Lautrec, strove, in 
contrast to Impressionism, for a synthesis in art, a kind of synthesis 
which was entirely new in European art. The synthetism of Gauguin and 
other members of the Pont-Aven group, Redon’s experiments which 
delighted Bonnard and his friends by “a unity of practically opposite 
qualities, the purest matter and extremely mystic expression”, 35 the 
visions of Gustave Moreau, usually deliberately theatrical — all these 
artistic manifestations at the end of the nineteenth century betrayed an 

antinaturalistic mood. The Nabis inevitably came to share this mood, 
although their attitudes towards Redon and Moreau were various. It 
influenced their art considerably and gave rise to a situation where in a 
single painting vague allusions could unexpectedly be combined with 
almost poster-like abstractions. Courbet and the painters of the 
Barbizon school had avoided using images which could be interpreted 
in different ways: in short, images outside the world of painting. For the 
Nabis, on the other hand, the interplay of various styles and images of 
the past, from the millefiori glass of the late Middle Ages to the colour 
prints of Hokusai and Hiroshige, motifs drawn from legends, 
mythology and the Gospel, all formed an integral part of their art. This 
tendency towards a synthesis of artistic concepts was entirely in keeping 
with the revival of the idea of combining painting with other arts and 
with architecture. 

This idea was current all across Europe. It was not rejected by the 
academic and salon leaders, but what they offered was the construction 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, The Window, 1925. Oil on canvas, 108.5 x 89 cm, Tate Gallery, London. 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, The Port of Cannes, 1927. Oil on canvas, 42 x 72 cm, The National Gallery of Canada. 



N A B I S 

♦ Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, The Poor Fisherman, 1881. Oil on canvas, 155 x 192.5 cm, Musee d’Orsay, Paris. 



♦ Felix Vallotton, A Port , 1091. Oil on cardboard, 57 x 62 cm, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow. 



of modem works of art based on copying Renaissance and Baroque 
examples, which merely led to a still-born “historicism”. The creative 
young artists of Paris were concerned with something entirely different. 
They dreamt of decorative and monumental painting which would 
absorb all the colouristic discoveries of the previous two decades. Later 
Verkade recalled: “Around 1 890 a war-cry surged through the studios: 
‘We’ve had enough of easel-paintings, down with useless furniture! 
Painting must not usurp a liberty which isolates it from other arts! There 
are no paintings, but only decorations!” 36 What were they to be like, these 
new decorations? Even beginners in painting realised that merely 
copying the Old Masters would be no better than the thoughtless transfer 
of the Impressionists’ brilliant colours onto walls. It was then that many 
artists’ eyes turned towards Puvis de Chavannes. The seventeen-year-old 
Denis wrote in his diary: “Yesterday I visited the exhibition of Puvis de 
Chavannes’ works. The calm, decorative aspect of his pictures is very 
beautiful: the colour of the walls is delightful, the harmonies of pale- 
yellow tones are superb. The composition is astonishingly well thought 
out and lofty; this suggests wonderful mastery. 1 am sure that above all it 
is the composition that influences the soul gently and mysteriously, ele- 
vating it and soothing.” 37 Not only Puvis de Chavannes’ murals in the 
Pantheon but also his easel paintings were seen as a lesson in decorative 
art. Gauguin made a copy of his Hope, and later, on Tahiti, painted two 
versions of A Poor Fisherman, a work (now in the Musee d’Orsay, Paris) 
which was also copied by Maillol, who was close to the Nabis. Even 
many years later Anna Golubkina advising her friend and fellow artist 
L. Gubina what to see in Paris in the short time at her disposal, said: 
“Don’t linger in the Pantheon — just look on the right for Puvis de 
Chavannes’ In the Luxembourg, don’t forget Puvis de Chavannes’ Poor 
Fisherman ”. 38 It is worth noting that the study for this picture was among 
the early purchases made by Sergei Shchukin. The deliberately 
restrained work of Puvis de Chavannes, by no means as daring in colour 
as the canvases of Manet, Monet or Degas, was destined to become a 
kind of banner for the following generation of artists. This generation 
dreamt of murals, of an “eternal” type of art; the young painters were 
fascinated by the promise which Puvis de Chavannes’s painting held; 
they saw that contemporary easel painting could stimulate meditation on 
life, breaking through the realm of purely visual facts. Maurice Denis, 
who loved to express himself in the language of a manifesto, formulated 

the aesthetic credo of his milieu in the following way: “We insist on the 
idea that the visible is a manifestation of the invisible, that forms and 
colours are indications of the state of our soul.” 39 

The kind of painting the Nabis evolved was an art with a complex 
orientation. Individual traits became more accentuated. Each artist 
strove to establish a more direct relationship with life without divorcing 
the external and the commonplace from the spiritual. The idea of 
merging art and life, the intrusion of art into life, inspired many artists 
and writers throughout Europe. This was most marked in Symbolism, 
determining many of its merits and its failures. But for other artists too, 
who were on the immediate fringes of Symbolism, this idea proved 
important and fruitful. 

The words of Vladislav Khodasevich concerning the Russian 
Symbolist poets apply equally well to the Nabis: “Life here was very 
specific . . . Here they tried to turn art into reality and reality into art. 
Events in real life ... were never seen as simply belonging to life: they 
at once became part of the inner world and part of creative work. And 
the other way round: something written by any of them became part of 
life for everyone. So, reality and literature were created by the collective 
efforts of the forces — at times hostile to each other, but united even in 
hostility — of all those who happened to find themselves part of this 
extraordinary life ... Incessant enthusiasm, continuous movement was 
all that was required from anyone who entered this order (and in a sense 
Symbolism was an order), the aim did not matter. All roads were open, 
and there was only one requirement — to move as quickly as possible 
and as far as possible. That was their only dogma. You could worship 
God or the Devil. You could be obsessed by anything you liked. The 
sole condition was that you be obsessed completely.” 40 

The attitude of rejection here, natural for a writer of the following 
post-symbolist age, only serves to highlight the expressively acute 
definition of the main “dogma”. Without taking into account this insistent 
cult of the creative personality, it is hardly possible to explain the peaceful 
coexistence of artists so different in temperament, frame of mind, 
aesthetic views and historical preferences as we find among the Nabis and 
among other groups at the close of the nineteenth century. The idea of 


N A B I S 


♦ Paul Gauguin, Nave nave moe, sacred springs or Sweet Dreams, 1894. Oil on canvas, 73 x 98 cm, Hermitage, St Petersburg. 




self-development postulated by the Nabis from the outset inexorably 
generated centrifugal tendencies in their artistic work. Understandably, 
therefore, with the advent of the twentieth century the divergence of 
positions among the, by now former, members of the group became more 
marked. Since painting always remained of paramount importance for 
them, each member either gained or lost in authority, depending on his 
achievements in that field. After more than a decade from the time the 
group formed, the standing of each of its members had become clear. 
Bonnard, Vuillard and Denis stood out not only as representatives of very 
different trends, but also as the most gifted among the Nabis. And as the 
century advanced, the amazing originality of the most significant artist of 

the group, Bonnard, became even more evident. Today there can be no 
doubt that he ranks among the most remarkable artists of the twentieth 
century. His canvases reflect his own time, as do those of other artists of 
his circle. Painting had made itself the image of the age. The image had 
many facets: poetic and simple, full of wonder in Bonnard’s work; 
excessively ornamental and therefore somewhat mysterious in Vuillard’s; 
voluptuously dream-like in Denis’s; somewhat bitter and acerbic in 
Vallotton’s. One point ought to be clarified here. In Bonnard’s work, the 
transient, belonging to the receding past, is in some unfathomable way 
fused with the eternal, belonging to no particular age. It is that which sets 
Bonnard apart from the other Nabis. 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, The Garden , c. 1936. Oil on canvas, 127 x 100 cm, Musee du Petit Palais, Paris. 

♦ Pierre Bonnard, Port Trouville, 1936-1946. Oil on canvas, 77 x 103 cm, Musee National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. 




N A B I S 


The names of Bonnard and Vuillard were already firmly linked in 
the minds of those who appreciated new art by the beginning of the 
twentieth century. Even before that, there had been a considerable 
creative affinity between them, reinforced by a strong friendship. This 
bond was only broken by Vuillard’s death, but their artistic paths, which 
at first ran side by side, noticeably diverged in the 1920s and 1930s. 
Vuillard’s painting became somehow drier, more “natural”, and quite 
often fell into repetition, especially in his society portraits. Perhaps 
sensing that something very important was slipping away from him, he 
began to tackle a broader range of themes. He might paint not only a 
game of cards but also, say, a medical scene, something inconceivable 
for Bonnard. In comparison with Bonnard he was always slightly 
lacking in emotional warmth, even in the early days when in terms of 
artistry he was the equal of his friend. 

As a ten-year-old at the Lycee Condorcet Vuillard made friends with 
Roussel, Denis and Lugne-Poe. Supposedly it was Roussel who 
persuaded the young Edouard to enter the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. His 
first works are signed Vuillard, eleve de M. Gerdme, but they already 
display distinct maturity and steer clear of the temptations of the 
academic painting and the portrayal of pleasant, engaging scenes which 
the celebrated maitre himself practised. Like all the Nabis, Vuillard was 
very well-read. He was fond of Baudelaire, Giraudoux and Valety and 
adored Mallarme, who gave the artist a first edition of his Divagations 
and wanted him, rather than anyone else, to illustrate his Herodiade. 
Vuillard took an interest in many things, but his own way of life was 
steady and uneventful. After losing his father fairly early he continued 
to live with his mother and never married. His art tends towards calm, 
but after first meeting him the perspicacious Signac saw him as “a 
clever, intelligent boy, a highly-strung searching artist”. 

“He showed me all his works from different periods, the searches 
he had gone through. His little sketches of interiors have a good deal 
of charm. He has a splendid understanding of the voices of things. His 
pictures reveal a fine painter. In their dull colour scheme there is 
always a flash of some bright colour establishing harmony in the 
piece. The contrast of tones, the skilfully arranged chiaroscuro 
balance out the different colours which, for all their dullness, are 
always refined, almost morbidly so.” 41 Signac made that entry in his 
diary on 16 February 1898. 

Within days, on 19 February, Vuillard wrote in a letter to Maurice 
Denis something we might consider his credo: “I have a fear or more pre- 
cisely an awful terror of those commonly-held ideas which I have not 
reached myself. It’s not that I deny their value, just that I would prefer 
humiliation to aping understanding.” 42 Having no trust in accepted truths 
and fashionable theories, Vuillard only acknowledged an idea when it had 
matured within himself. In the same letter he also wrote that if he derived 
joy from his work it was because he had within him an idea in which he 
believed. But he never proclaimed his ideas. Like Bonnard he had a dislike 
of publicity and said on several occasions “Silence protects me”. 43 

Somewhat condescendingly calling Vuillard a boy (he was in fact 
already about thirty), Signac noted “searches” and “periods” and was 
undoubtedly surprised at the metamorphoses in the other’s work. By the 
end of the century Vuillard had indeed changed his artistic manner more 
than once, not, of course, following fashion, but following the dictates 
of his own inner development. His early still lifes exude admiration for 
Chardin. The Louvre, already familiar from frequent childhood visits, 
strengthened Vuillard in his love of Rembrandt, Lesueur and Prud’hon. 
Gauguin’s teaching, which came to him through The Talisman, found in 
Vuillard a more committed follower than Serusier himself. The Nabis’ 
desire to paint “icons” took an unexpected turn in the small paintings of 
1890-91 which were put together from a few small areas of colour that 
were completely flat and very bright. Their boldness anticipates 
Fauvism. Immediately afterwards Vuillard returned to calmer colours 
and abandoned absolute flatness without, however, resorting to the 
modelling devices used by the Old Masters. His painting became an 
ornamental pattern with a very complex rhythm. Impressions of 
Japanese woodcuts or old French mille-fleurs suggest themselves as 
possible inspirations, but the most probable source of all was 
contemporary cheap fabrics. At home and in the small dressmaker’s 
studio which Vuillard’s mother ran after her husband’s death in order to 
feed the family, the future artist was surrounded from an early age by 
the unusual patterns and combinations of colours presented by jumbled 
off-cuts of fabric. Moreover, Vuillard’s mother’s brother and father 
were both fabric designers. Vuillard did not, however, follow their 
example. He felt himself to be a painter, and fabrics for him were only 
supplementary material, sometimes suggesting a new arabesque, 
sometimes becoming an object for depiction in its own right. There are 
paintings in which fabrics emerge as characters on a par with the human 

♦ Edouard Vuillard, Chapel in Versailles, 1928. Oil on paper on canvas, 66 x 96 cm, Musee d’Orsay. 



figures. Vuillard painted his mother and sister relaxing or performing 
their laborious work, presented a homely breakfast or simply an interior. 
His painting is consciously intimate, something encouraged by the 
choice of themes. As far back as 1 892 Albert Aurier, the ardent advocate 
of the work of Van Gogh and Gauguin, considered the leading 
theoretician of the new painting, called Vuillard an “intimiste 
verlainien ”. 44 At that same time Gustave Geffroy, in a review of an 
exhibition at Le Barque de Bouteville’s pointed out the creative affinity 
between Bonnard and Vuillard, stressing the way in which they 
masterfully handled the smallest gradations of colour capable of 
delighting the eye. “[They] possess a gift, of course, for nuances and the 
play of lines, symmetrical and disorderly, combining and diverging 
them with fascinating, exquisite taste for decorative painting.” 45 

The manner which Geffroy described is one which Vuillard 
maintained for a long time. It did go through modifications, though, and 
the artist concurrently employed another manner marked by fairly strict 
geometries and simplifications. The former is to be seen in his picture 

In the Garden (Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts) and paintings in both 
Moscow and St Petersburg depicting domestic interiors, the latter 
represented by Children (Hermitage). An example of the combination of 
the two manners is found in the small work On the Sofa now in Moscow. 

This ratio of works, with only one landscape to a number of interiors, 
reflects an important peculiarity of Vuillard’s art: indoor scenes were 
more attractive to him than the open spaces of landscape. This preference 
for interiors made Vuillard a greater intimist than Bonnard. His 
landscapes too were usually to a greater or lesser degree intimate pieces. 

“His subjects,” the artist’s biographer Jacques Salomon wrote, 
“were for a long period his room, his window, the view from his 
window: the yard or garden. ... He would not have put on his boots to 
go and paint snow, he would have gazed at it from his room, looking 
out. As for his portraits, he catches his models in their own homes in 
accustomed surroundings.” 46 What makes the intimism of a Vuillard 
landscape? Partly the role played by his characters. Placed in the centre 

♦ Edouard Vuillard, In the Garden, 1899. Tempera on cardboard, 51 x 83 cm, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow. 



of In the Garden are two ladies seated comfortably round a garden table. 
Their conversation seems unhurried and routine, perhaps about knitting 
or domestic chores. Yet these female figures do not dominate the com- 
position. The intimate effect of the picture is due to the general 
vagueness of details, the softness of colouring, the subdued opaque tex- 
ture and the limited space, with the landscape reduced to the lawn 
instead of stretching to infinity and no room whatever left for the sky. 
This type of composition can be traced back to early Impressionism, or 
rather to Claude Monet (Women in the Garden, Musee d’Orsay, Paris, 
and Lady in the Garden, Hermitage, St Petersburg; both 1867). In those 
pictures, with an emphasis on pictorial effect, the subject matter is 
already losing its significance. Three decades later Van Gogh and 
Gauguin, developing Monet’s motifs while working side by side in 
Arles, painted, respectively, Reminiscence of the Garden at Etten 
(Hermitage, St Petersburg) and In the Garden of the Aries Hospital (Art 
Institute of Chicago). Vuillard might have seen one of these pictures, 
perhaps both. Each employs the Japanese type of design, avoiding 
depth, with the artist viewing the scene from above and placing the line 

of the horizon beyond the top of the composition. The difference, 
however, is more noticeable than the similarity. To Van Gogh and 
Gauguin, human presence is of paramount importance, therefore the 
female figures are clear-cut and large-scale. The powerful emotional 
message is paralleled by the effective picturesque qualities. Proceeding 
from Seurat’s and Signac’s methods, Van Gogh made his paintings ex- 
tremely “tense” by applying large divided strokes of contrasting 
colours. Vuillard and his fellow artists did not like smooth surfaces 
either; nevertheless, Vuillard’s divided strokes create an altogether 
different impression. His use of the cardboard’s brownish colour, with 
the ground not completely covered by paint (a technique favoured by 
the Nabis as well as Toulouse-Lautrec), contributes not only to the 
effective economy of means, but also to a more subdued and softened 
pictorial quality. The painting is notable for its decorativeness. It is 
evident that Vuillard did not aim to create an illusion of reality. The 
decorative quality of the picture is of a specific type reminding us that 
the artist worked as a stage designer. Vuillard shared, at least in the 
1890s, the idea of the Nabis and those artists who grouped round the 

♦ Edouard Vuillard, The Room, 1899. Oil on cardboard, glued on parquet, 52 x 79 cm, Hermitage, St Petersburg. 



♦ Edouard Vuillard, On the Sofa (In the White Room), 1892-93. Oil on cardboard glued on canvas, 32 x 38 cm, Pushkin Museum of Fine Ails, Moscow. 

♦ Edouard Vuillard, At the Window (Interior. Woman at the Window). 1907-08. Oil on cardboard, 40.2 x 33 cm, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow. 


Revue Blanche that the main purpose of painting is to produce 
monumental works. Some time later Octave Mirbeau remarked in his 
preface to the sale catalogue of Thadee Natanson’s collection, which 
included 26 paintings by Vuillard, “His magic needs walls”. 47 Vuillard 
agreed with Lesueur, his favourite fellow artist, that monumental 
painting was the supreme art form, yet the best of his own work is easel 
painting, suggestive though it is of his decorative panels and stage 
designs. The very early painting by Vuillard called On the Sofa (Pushkin 
Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow) is marked with a rare artistic daring. It 
consists of two seemingly very different parts: the one on the right 
dominated by white and devoid of pictorial details, for it merely 
features a door and a wall; the one on the left — a juxtaposition of 
various pure colours and ornaments. It is remarkable that the two parts, 
however different, seem to belong together. All the details are well 
balanced, a quality which is especially important in paintings of 
interiors. The title On the Sofa is quite appropriate, as that piece of 
furniture is more significant than the woman reclining on it, who seems 
no more than a feature of the interior. 

The human figures in Vuillard’s painting behave with an extreme 
calmness. The woman in On the Sofa is asleep, the family in the picture 
called In the Room are engrossed in reading. The pleasures of the home, 
the unhurried domestic round — that is what Vuillard’s art dealt with. 
The painter would not highlight the occupations pursued by his 
characters. The design depends on the models to strike a note of vitality, 
and they are always well-matched to the interior decoration. Only oc- 
casionally are they treated as individuals. They are, as it were, resultant 
forces in the system of colour patches and consequently they ultimately 
serve as colour patches, too. The human figures are inseparable from 
their surroundings, sometimes to the point of merging with the 
background. Vuillard had the subtle intuition of a colourist, which led 
him to discover an abundance of artistic resources where they had 
formerly remained neglected: in the regular and simple routine, in the 
details of everyday life. 

At times Vuillard might seem to be unthinkingly registering 
whatever caught his eye, unruffled by the ungainly or the unsightly, 
such as the black cast-iron stove and flue of In the Room. 

No detail is omitted here, and a closer look at the painting reveals 
not only the stove, tables and chairs, but also a number of minor objects, 
like the vases and the waste-paper basket. The viewer is unaware that 
the basket is “inelegant”, because the material quality of things is erased 
and completely dominated by the pictorial pattern. The objects seem to 
dissolve, turning into patches of subdued colours, yet still they are there. 
Vuillard was second to none at grasping the beauty of soft tints, always 
immaculately suited to his peaceful interiors. 

♦ Edouard Vuillard, Three Panels from “Jardins Publics”: Public 
Gardens; the Nursemaid; The Red Parasol , 1894. Oil on canvas, panel 
1: 73 x 217.5 cm, panel 2: 154 x 213 cm, panel 3: 81 x 214 cm. 
Musee d’Orsay, Paris. 




♦ Edouard Vuillard, Children, 1908-09. Tempera on paper glued on canvas, 84.5 x 77.7 cm. Hermitage, St Petersburg. 



Like all the Nabis, Vuillard attached immense importance to colour 
effects. Both Vuillard and Bonnard managed to use them to enhance the 
intimate mood of a picture. Their contemporaries already detected the 
similarity between their gentle colour palettes and Debussy’s music. 
Their awareness of fleeting nuances and waning undertints combined 
the Impressionist commitment to real subject-matter and the craving for 
the mysterious and the indefinite, which amounted to the most 
outstanding feature of art at the turn of the century. The latter tendency 
found its ultimate expression in Symbolism, but it influenced even those 
artists who were not involved in this trend. For all the softness and 
delicacy of his art, Vuillard never disregarded the structure of his 
compositions, and this is something which distinguished him from the 
rest of the Nabis. Both In the Room and Children display a framework 
formed by bringing together the straight lines of the buildings and 
pieces of furniture. 

The viewpoint selected in Children is such that a geometric pattern 
is formed by the screen, balcony, door and carpet, which links the 
patches of colour together. This is done so unobtrusively that the artist’s 
concern for the structure of his composition remains unnoticeable. 
Compared with In the Room, encumbered with objects to an almost 
psychopathic degree, Children reveals another aspect of Vuillard the 
painter: a gourmet turned ascetic, as Jacques Emile Blanche very aptly 
remarked. 48 Here Vuillard makes a bold use of empty spaces, relying on 
them to strengthen the whole composition. The pale patch of the floor 
takes up about a third of the canvas and nearly all of the foreground. The 
contrast between the empty light surfaces and the richly tinted and 
colourful details endows the painting with an inner significance. The 
artist did not have to resort to an unusual or exotic theme to achieve a 
rich decorative effect. His subject-matter was always at hand: mainly 
the lives of his nearest and dearest. 

♦ Edouard Vuillard, In the Room, 1903. Oil on cardboard, 50 x 77 cm, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow. 



N A B I S 

♦ Ker Xavier Roussel, Mythological Subject, 1903. Oil on cardboard, 47 x 62 cm, Hermitage, St Petersburg. 





Roussel was bom into the family of a well-known Paris physician 
who worshipped the arts and had a wide circle of acquaintances among 
artists. Doctor Roussel entrusted his son’s training to a friend of his, 
Maillard, winner of the Prix de Rome. Maillard’s studio had once 
belonged to Delacroix, so Roussel would often hear the great 
Romantic’s name mentioned there, and was to be influenced by his 
vigorous colours in the years to come, although Maillard himself was 
entirely committed to the academic manner of painting. Vuillard, 
Roussel’s fellow student at the Lycee, followed suit and began studying 
under Maillard also. It was with Vuillard’s family that Roussel found 
refuge when his parents separated, and he subsequently married 
Vuillard’s sister. 

The 1 890s saw a strong similarity between the creative activities of 
Roussel and Vuillard. Roussel, like Vuillard, began by painting meticu- 
lous still lifes and making sketches of figures, though he was totally 
indifferent to interiors. Compared to Vuillard, he was more easily 
influenced, more dependent on Japanese art and the work of Puvis de 
Chavannes. The early years of the twentieth century were the crucial 
point in his career, when the themes of his painting, as well as 
compositional and pictorial devices, were being established. 

The subjects of Roussel’s art were shaped by his literary tastes. In 
his younger days he used to carry a book of Virgil’s poetry about with 
him, and a great many of his mature canvases seem to have been 
inspired by Bucolics. As for contemporary poets, he had the greatest 
admiration for Mallarme and was particularly impressed by his 
L’Apres-midi d’un fame. When he was teaching at the Academie 
Ranson, he would bring with him a volume of Mallarme and read out 
poems to his students, believing that they would stir their imagination 
better than any instruction or exhortation. The motifs of his own art 
were chiefly fauns and nymphs, Bacchanal dances and pastoral idylls. 
Roussel obviously strove to create a modern version of the “historical 
landscape”, not anaemic or sugary-sweet, like the works of the Salon 
maitres. but vigorous and genuinely picturesque, and it was for that 
reason that he shared Cezanne’s esteem for Poussin. He was also 
fascinated by Cross, whose pictures were a luscious blend of myth and 
reality. In 1906, Roussel and Denis visited Provence and made 
pilgrimages to Cezanne in Aix and Cross in Saint-Clair. This trip 
became an important landmark in Roussel’s career. Making a record 
of their visit to Cezanne, Denis wrote that his studio was adorned with 


♦ Ker Xavier Roussel, In the Snow (Training the Dog), 1893. Color lithograph, Hermitage, St Petersburg. 



a reproduction of Poussin’s Arcadian Shepherds. This painting 
provided a major starting point for Roussel. It is not known whether 
they spoke of Poussin at their meeting, but we do know that Cezanne’s 
thoughts often turned to Poussin. His cherished ambition was to 
enliven Poussin by making use of a natural setting, or transform him 
in concord with nature. In fact, Roussel had conceived the same idea 
long before the visit to Cezanne. In March 1898, Denis wrote in his 
diary, “Roussel says he wonders what made Poussin modify his 
beautiful sketches in such a way that the paintings turned out to be 
quite unlike the sketches”. 49 

These modifications were chiefly the consequence of the artist’s 
ideas not finding their ultimate expression until he put the finishing 
touches to his work whilst turning a sketch into a picture. The point is 
that the Old Masters had a desire to be understood by their customers 
and other people sharing the same views, whereas the pioneers of new 
art who worked at the time of conflict between the Salon and avant- 
garde artists used to look down on the general public and remained 
distrustful of the masses. Of course, Poussin knew the worth of natural 
free and easy brushwork and application of colours, but for him these 
values were not decisive, much less the only condition for creating a 
work of art. Late nineteenth-century artists were preoccupied with the 
idea of spontaneity, but they found themselves obliged to follow the 
precepts of the Old Masters when dealing with vast spaces, especially 
in decorative and monumental compositions. However, to do so did 
not necessarily mean to accept those precepts wholeheartedly. It was 
the urge for artistic spontaneity that made Roussel re-paint the 
finished canvases time and again, not necessarily improving the 
original version. 

On the other hand, Roussel’s ardent nature and individualism might 
well have been what kept him from resorting to banal stylization. Was 
it chance that politically he tended towards anarchism? He was keenly 
aware of the poetic quality of Mediterranean myths. As early as the 
1890s, Roussel was painting landscapes with nude and half-clothed 
figures, in which the line between myth and reality was practically 
obliterated. His pastoral scenes are far from being a mere play of 
imagination; they look amazingly true to life and are capable therefore 
of striking a humorous note. 

Roussel’s Arcadia is indeed sparkling with the vivid colours of the 
French Mediterranean wielded by an artist inspired with a profound 
love for nature. Ajoyful eulogy in praise of the abundant south and life 
itself is to be found in Roussel’s Rural Festival, permeated with the 
sweeping and exultant spirit of the ancient pagan world. 

♦ Ker Xavier Roussel, The Triumph of Ceres (Rural Festival), 1911-1913. Oil on canvas, 164 x 123 cm, Hermitage, St Petersburg. 

♦ Ker Xavier Roussel, The Triumph of Bacchus (Rural Festival), 1911-13. Oil on canvas, 116.5 x 119.5 cm, Hermitage, St Petersburg. 






Denis was born in Granville, where his parents had fled from the 
Franco-Prussian War. His boyhood and adolescence were spent at his 
parents’ home at Saint-Germain-en-Laye and also in Paris. In the course 
of his numerous travels Denis frequently visited Italy, for he held the art 
of that country in great esteem. He attended the Lycee Condorcet, which 
laid the foundations for his extraordinary breadth of knowledge and his 
future artistic associations. 

As a boy Denis was ambitious. One of the first entries in his diary, 
which he kept till the end of his life, was a proud mention of the fact that 
he had won second prize for French, first prize for history and second 
for drawing. He was not yet 14 years old. Subsequently he was to win 
many more honours, including membership in the Academie. His 
personality not being very strong, he was incapable of becoming a 
leader. Verkade remarked after the Nabis had formed a group, “He was 
like a girl tied to her mother’s apron-strings”. 50 Nevertheless, he was full 
of vitality. It was he who helped Serusier, at the Academie Julian, to 
bring together a group of students sharing the same ideas. Eventually he 
became one of the organizers of the Salon d’Automne. He always 
wished to play a prominent part in the artistic life of Paris, not only as 
a painter, but also as art critic, theorist, instructor and even preacher. 

Denis was profoundly pious from childhood. He wrote in his diary 
in May 1885, “Yes, I must become a Christian painter and eulogise all 
the wonders of Christianity; I feel that this is necessary”. 51 

His quest to combine art and religion, which became apparent 
during his Nabi period, eventually and logically resulted in his setting 
up the Ateliers d’Art Sacre in 1919 and joining the Franciscan order. 

However, Denis was too much of an artist to remain merely a 
minister of religion at such a time as the late nineteenth century. For it 
was he who, at the age of twenty, coined the statement that first 
appeared in the journal Art et Critique under the pen-name of Pierre 
Louis and was to be echoed by avant-garde artists in the decades that 
followed: “A picture — before being a war horse, a female nude, or 
some anecdote — is essentially a flat surface covered with paints in a 
particular order”. 52 This statement, slightly altered, came to express the 
aesthetic programme of Symbolism: “... the sounds, colours and words 
are wonderfully expressive regardless of any representation; indeed, 
regardless of the actual meaning of the words”. 53 

In 1901 Denis exhibited a large canvas called Homage to Ce:anne at 
the Salon de la Societe Nationale des Beaux- Arts (1900, Musee 
d’Orsay, Paris), which could be regarded as a manifesto of the new art. 
It was a full-length group portrait of himself, Redon, Serusier, Bonnard, 
Roussel, Vuillard and Vollard standing round a still life by the then 
little-known artist. The Nabis were enthusiastic admirers of Cezanne, 
and Denis was among his first advocates and expounders, although his 
own art owes little to Cezanne. He was much closer to Gauguin, not 
only when he was first impressed by his Talisman, but also years later. 
Incidentally, the Cezanne still life on the easel in the Homage belonged 
to Gauguin, a fact that only those “in the know” were aware of. 

It is only natural that by smoothing away the harshness present in 
the art of Cezanne and Gauguin, Denis should have gained fame 
quickly, while the other two did not achieve real recognition during 
their lifetimes. Yet this is not to say that Denis practised such artistic 
methods with the sole purpose of becoming successful. In the first 
place, there were shorter and safer ways to early fame by becoming an 
academic painter; secondly, such qualities as softness, refinement and 
prettiness were innate in Denis’s character and passed on to his art. It 
seems probable that Denis would have arrived at the style of his own 
even without Gauguin’s influence, although it might have come some- 
what later and with some slight differences. Even before he became 
acquainted with Gauguin’s art, Denis was strongly attracted by 
simplified forms, soft decorative effects and lofty themes. When 
visiting the Puvis de Chavannes exhibition, the 17-year-old Denis was 
enchanted by the “wonderful, quiet and simple decorative quality of 
his pictures and by their compositions producing a delightful and 
mysterious effect on the soul”. 54 Puvis de Chavannes, Gauguin and 
Early Renaissance Italian masters led Denis to think that 
“synthesizing is not just simplifying or eliminating some details of the 
object; but simplifying means making things clearer, briefer, more 
orderly, subordinating the details to a single dominant rhythmical 
pattern, making sacrifices, revealing dependence, coming to 
generalisations”. 55 From a fascination with Puvis de Chavannes and 
Gauguin, Denis went on to study the art of Poussin, Raphael and Fra 
Angelico. He departed from the original simplicity of form, without 
noticing himself that it amounted to sharing the views of 
academicism. These changes, however, did not become apparent until 
the early years of the twentieth century. The 1890s were a distinct 
stage in Denis’s career, when his painting was sincere and gently 

♦ Maurice Denis, The Encounter. Oil on cardboard, 37.5 x 33 cm, Hermitage, St Petersburg. 



N A B I S 

♦ Maurice Denis, The Wedding Procession, 1892. Oil on doubled canvas, 26 x 63 cm, Hermitage, St Petersburg. 


N A B I S 




poetic, marked by a quiet elegance of style entirely his own. Only 
occasionally did his taste fail him at that time, something that cannot 
be said of the 1900s nor especially of the 1910s to 1930s At the turn 
of the century Denis’s religious experience made him look back on the 
past as a time of still unshaken faith, an attitude shared by many artists 
and strengthened by the revival of religion in Europe, brought about 
by the crisis of Positivism. 

In turning to biblical subjects (The Visitation, Martha and Mary), 
Denis was dealing with exceptionally enduring iconographic 
traditions. But at a time when any kind of art was expected to be 
imaginative and demonstrated new solutions, Denis could not confine 
himself to an accustomed compositional scheme. It was a great 
challenge to give biblical subjects a new treatment; it was a still 
greater challenge to make this treatment simple and natural. Denis 
achieved this by making use of gently outlined forms, subtle rhythmic 
patterns and a skilled choice of the details of the setting. It was in such 
biblical paintings as Martha and Mary that Denis’s Neo-Traditionalism 
attained its finest expression. 

The deep-rooted tradition of portrait painting is violated in Martha 
and Mary in that the figures in the foreground are more vague than the 
landscape in the background. Denis first used this device in his 
lithographs and subsequently it found its way into his paintings. The 
intention was to emphasize the religious context. The overall mood of 
the canvas, the obscuring of details, all the more noticeable and 
deliberate because they pertain to the images of Christ and other biblical 
characters depicted as large-scale figures, distinguish Denis’s work 
strongly from the religious paintings of Gauguin, an artist who had 
obviously “stepped away” from Symbolism. Denis rather affiliated 
himself with the artists who “stuck by” that movement and adhered to 
obscure, mystic images, “smoky” in the case of Carriere, glowing with 
Gustave Moreau, nocturnal with Levy-Dhurmer or very light with 
Redon, whose blend of colour and light made the faces in his canvases 
look ephemeral. Martha and Mary is a most striking example of how 
Denis was trying to bridge the gap between Gauguin and Redon. 
Biblical subjects are often associated in Denis’s early pictures with his 
personal experiences, an attitude similar to Gauguin’s. The figure on the 
right in The Visitation is an idealized likeness of Marthe, the artist’s wife. 
When the picture was being painted, she was pregnant. Denis treated the 
biblical scene as a sublime equivalent of reality, so that it acquired a 
special significance for him. 

His marriage to Marthe Meurier in 1893 was a major event in his 
life. From that time onwards most of his female figures bore a 
resemblance to his wife. She was depicted by Denis in his religious 
works as an ethereal, or indeed incorporeal, creature, which she was 
most definitely not, as the portrait of her in the Pushkin Museum of Fine 
Arts clearly shows. Paintings like Martha and Mary can be perceived as 
having two facets: one traditional, that of a biblical story, the other 
intimate and more obscure. In both The Visitation and Martha and Mary 
the two female characters look uncannily alike. With regard to the 
former painting, this similarity may be accounted for by the fact that 
they are close relatives. But even if the characters are not related, Denis 
still deliberately adhered to his favourite types. This duplication 
smoothes away all idiosyncrasies and transfers the painting into the 
realm of allegory. Denis’s biblical paintings mostly depict female 
characters. This preference indeed determined his choice of subjects. 
Only infrequently did he turn to dramatic episodes, for they were alien 
to his rather feminine talent. 

Denis’s portrait and genre paintings created in this same period are 
also imbued with an air of controlled solemnity peculiar to religious 
art. Portrait of Marthe Denis, the Artist’s Wife (1893, Pushkin Museum 
of Fine Arts, Moscow) captures purely casual details: Marthe is por- 
trayed adjusting her shoulder-strap, and a woman in the background is 
taking washing off the line. But these details only slightly obscure the 
classical character of the picture. The Encounter is reminiscent of The 
Visitation and is seen as some formal act worthy of a painter’s brush. 
Denis’s scenes of motherhood are always suggestive of the Virgin and 
Child. The sincerity of Denis’s emotion helped him to keep up to the 
mark even in such idyllic pictures as Mother and Child. He was 
tempted by a kind of colour scheme that is almost sickly sweet, and at 
times he could not resist the temptation. This hazard was happily 
avoided in the portrait of his wife Marthe and daughter Noele now in 
the Hermitage. With great discretion Denis softened the striped pattern 
of the mother’s dress, which is used to set off the baby’s white robe. 
By this simple device he manages to avoid monotony, skilfully 
bringing into harmony the curved outlines of human figures and the 
rectangular shapes of the doors, windows and the frame on the wall. 
The Christian art tradition is also very noticeable in a few pictures 
based on real events. Sacred Spring in Guide! being one of them. This 
small-scale, intensely picturesque painting is superior to many large- 
sized genre compositions with some story to them. It provides an 
impressive example of what Denis’s gift as a colourist could have 

♦ Maurice Denis, Mother and Child, 1895. Oil on canvas 45 x 38.5, Hermitage, St Petersburg. 



N A B I S 

♦ Maurice Denis, Portrait of Marthe Denis, the Artist’s Wife, 1893. Oil on canvas, 45 x 54 cm, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow. 



developed into had he not subordinated it to the theory of Neo- 
Traditionalism and rigid rules of composition. The appearance of 
Figures in a Springtime Landscape (The Sacred Grove) has become a 
landmark in the history of Symbolism. With its allegoric and 
evanescent quality and elaborately bizarre style, as well as the 
numerous allusions it evokes, this painting is akin to Symbolist poetry. 
Though profoundly personal, it gives objective expression to a whole 
programme of Symbolism, which requires a measure of erudition and 
contemplation on the part of the viewer. 

Figures in a Springtime Landscape is a splendid demonstration of 
how Gauguin’s manner was adapted by Denis. It is not only that 
Symbolism becomes more involved. After Wedding Procession or The 
Visitation, this canvas marks a divergence from Denis’s earlier flatly 
treated paintings which had been stimulated by his visits to Italy, where 
he was influenced by the Renaissance painting. The scope of different 
allusions brought to mind by Figures in a Springtime Landscape is 
amazing: old tapestries, Neo-Impressionism, Raphael and Puvis de 
Chavannes. The painting is designed in such a way that all details are 
reduced to a single common denominator: the outlines of the female 
nudes and the drapery echo each other and also the contours of the trees. 
However, Gauguin’s method of rhythmical similarities is only sparingly 
employed by Denis. By flattening the surface of the picture, Denis 
strives for a pattern of lines that would not only delineate the patches of 
colour, but also be one with them, striking the same chord. The delicate 
interlacing of streaming lines is in harmony with the subtle colour 
scheme that is dominated by pinkish hues. Unlike Gauguin, Denis had 
a desire to be liked, which is still further evidence of the feminine nature 
of his art. Denis saw the difference between the Symbolist wing of the 
Nabis, to which he belonged together with Serusier and Ranson, and the 
circle of Bonnard, Vuillard and Roussel as being that, while attaching 
great importance to the human figure, he was inclined to give 
supremacy to the drawing. 

From the start of the twentieth century, Denis found it increasingly 
difficult to retain a balance between drawing and colour. His drawing 
would quite often become harsh, his colour scheme crude and garish. 
Compared to his best works produced in the 1890s, or even Sacred 
Spring in Guidel, the twin canvases Bacchus and Ariadne and Polyphemus 
seem lacking in clearness and perspicuity The bathing woman in Poly- 
phemus is directly borrowed from Gauguin’s Fatata te miti (On the 
Seashore) painted in 1892. 

This painting was in Vollard’s possession and Denis was 
undoubtedly familiar with it. Gauguin’s influence can also be traced in 
the decorative and ornamental treatment of the breaking waves. 
However, the handling of the figures in the foreground goes against 
Gauguin’s method. They do not seem to belong in this stylized 
landscape. Gauguin’s precept of avoiding poses in motion is 
disregarded here. Degas, who was primarily preoccupied with the 
human body in motion, developed special qualities of drawing, 
ingeniously evading the rigidity of line. Departing from Gauguin’s 
soothing balanced design and, consequently, from the principles of his 
own early work, ignoring the dynamic quality of Degas’s pictures, 
Denis doomed his art to the eclecticism of academic painting, which 
he had rejected in his younger days. He seemed to have forgotten his 
own daring statement: “A picture — before being a female nude — is 
a flat surface...” The nudes in Denis’s Bacchus and Ariadne and 
Polyphemus are painted in a three-dimensional manner, with bulging 
muscles, contrasting shadows and reflexes. This approach resulted 
from the artist’s desire to breathe new life into the ancient legend, to 
bring the myth up to date. The modernisation, however, appears to be 
rather forced. Ariadne reclining on the rock calls to mind classical 
sculpture, whereas the bathing men and women are part of another 
world, the world of bourgeois fashion which rejects all legend. 
Polyphemus looks very much like an obese habitue of seaside resorts. 
The picture almost strikes a note of caricature. Vallotton used this 
approach to achieve a calculated effect; with Denis, the same method 
seems to be evidence of a lack of taste, all the more unexpected since 
he had shown himself an artist of subtle, indeed refined, judgement. 
After the break-up of the Nabis, the art of Denis and his fellow 
painters was put to a test. It is notable that while Bonnard managed to 
avoid a crisis, the whole Symbolist wing was affected. These artists, 
obsessed with cramming symbols and metaphors into their pictures in 
order to expound elements of Christian doctrine, a theosophical theory 
or literary narration, were vulnerable to inadequacies in the painterly 
sphere. Not that they were less gifted than the rest. That is true only 
of Serusier, while Denis was exceptionally talented. However, his 
stylistic vacillations in the 1890s betray his uncertainty with regard to 
his choice of artistic direction. Denis was a man of both knowledge 
and ability, yet his pictures and panels increasingly came to resemble 
mere tinted drawings. Later on, realistic paintings, not quite what one 
would expect from him, such as New York skyscrapers, alternated 
with returns to the style of his youth, showing a preference for flat 
surfaces, but he never recaptured the excellence of his early canvases. 



N A B I S 

oc Niyij*r 

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VI fci 

♦ Maurice Denis, Bacchus and Ariadne, 1906-1907. Oil on canvas, 81 x 116 cm, Hermitage, St Petersburg. 



♦ Maurice Denis, The Flying Cupid is Struck by Psyche ’s Beauty, 1907. One of five main decorative panels The Legend of Psyche, 1 907-08. Oil on 
canvas, 394 x 269.5 cm, Musee d’Orsay, Paris. 



N A B I S 

♦ Maurice Denis, Sheperds (The Green Seashore), 1909. Oil on canvas, 97 x 180 cm, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow. 


N A B I S 




N A B I S 

♦ Maurice Denis, Figures in a Springtime Landscape, 1897. Oil on canvas, 156.3 x 178.5 cm, Hermitage, St Petersburg. 



At the end of his career Denis was preoccupied with the ideas of 
monumental art, which often seem far-fetched. The panel he painted 
for the Bureau International du Travail in Geneva (1931) shows an 
Old-Master type of Christ wearing a classical tunic preaching to 
labourers who might have stepped into the picture from a photograph, 
dressed as they are in the fashions of the early 1930s. Over a period of 
fifty years Denis created a large number of monumental decorative 
works for private houses, theatres, churches and public buildings. 
Only a few of them — including The Legend of Psyche commissioned 
by Ivan Morozov — attain the level of his best easel paintings. In his 
old age, turning over his most important works in his mind, Maurice 
Denis described the Moscow series as dating from his easy and 
formula period. 56 Indeed, the Legend of Psyche series is not without a 
certain ease, though it is the cultivated ease of the skilfully applied 
and readily appreciated formula, in this case of Art Nouveau. 

Art Nouveau, which flourished at the turn of the century, aimed 
especially at the creation of a decorative and monumental ensemble. 
It seemed that everything — from architecture to jewellery — could 
be reduced to the curvilinear forms of Art Nouveau. This movement 
lived and breathed with the idea of synthesis, while clinging 
tenaciously to the notion of elegance. The ceramics and pieces of 
furniture which Denis designed for Morozov’s house, as well as the 
series of thirteen panels, all belonged together and were derived from 
the same principles. The total effect of the interior was intensified by 
Maillol’s statues. 

In this ensemble, with its beautiful architecture sheltering applied arts, 
sculpture and painting, it was the last which reigned supreme, for painting 
always set the tone at Morozov’s. The interior decoration was centred 
around the five largest panels. They were similar in size and were 
effectively united by a shared degree of flatness, the same scale of figures 
and interplay of colours. Nevertheless, Denis’s decorative painting is not 
flawless. The facial expressions of the figures are banal, the garlands, 
bouquets and clouds are commonplace. The combination of blue and pink 
surfaces is determined by the subject, but equally by the traditional 
principles of Art Nouveau. Denis worked within the bounds of generally 
accepted standards. Similar decorative approaches are easily found in the 
design of posters and labels, as the individual personality of the artist 
becomes increasingly lost. The abundance of flesh is rather obtrusive. 
Only the third panel. Psyche Discovers that her Mysterious Lover is Cupid, 
is better in this respect. Here the bright pink of a naked body is 
transformed into a pinkish-ochre by the light of the oil-lamp and the com- 
position is well set off by the dark background. The emphasis on the 
centre of the canvas makes the subject-matter more intelligible. The panel 
is designed like an easel-painting, and that is yet another demonstration of 
the fact that Denis’s greatest merit lay in this field. 

♦ Maurice Denis, Decoration for the chapel of the College Sainte-Croix du Vesinet. Right hand panel with angels and altarboys, 1 899. Oil on canvas, 
115 x 250 cm, Musee d’Orsay, Paris. 






The “foreign Nabi” stood out among the members of the group, not so 
much because of his non-French extraction as because of his manner of 
painting, quite unlike that of his fellow artists. For this reason some critics 
have regarded his affiliation with the Nabis as purely formal. For instance 
Charles Chasse, whose book on the Nabis was published in Switzerland, 
the artist’s homeland, 57 scarcely mentions Vallotton, whereas he sets aside 
whole chapters to artists who did not belong to this group at all and played 
a lesser part in the history of painting at the turn of the century. 
Nevertheless, the Nabis must have had their reasons for admitting the 
newcomer from Lausanne into their circle, even if they did hesitate over it. 

All the Nabis’ first efforts were remarkable for their maturity, but 
Vallotton achieved mastery even sooner than the others. His style was 
established very early and remained practically unchanged. While 
Bonnard’s fledgeling canvases did not contain the promise of his later 
works, Vallotton displayed his talent to the full at the very outset of his 
career. As a boy of sixteen, he amazed his teachers in Lausanne with a 
study of an old man’s head, executed with a sure hand. Soon afterwards 
he moved to Paris. His Self-Portrait at Seventeen (1882, Musee Cantonal 
des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne) was probably painted at that time. This 
picture is remarkable for the masterful handling of minute details and 
their balanced arrangement. The artist makes no attempt at pictorial 
effects. The portrait is austere and somewhat reserved, as was the 
painter himself. Looking out at us from the canvas is a boy who seems 
too serious for his age, assertive and independent in his judgement. 
Vallotton had a hard time during his first decade in Paris. Fie had to do 
odd jobs like the restoration and reproduction of engravings; he also 
contributed to fashion magazines and various humorous publications. A 
measure of fame finally came to him with his woodcuts, daring and 
generalized in manner, devoid of any half-tones. His portraits, landscapes, 
street and genre scenes revealing aspects of bourgeois life that society 
preferred to keep hidden are always extremely stark and highly caustic. In 
the 1 890s Vallotton produced far more woodcuts than paintings. 

As far back as 1885, when Vallotton first showed his works at the 
Salon des Artistes Franyais, they drew the attention of art critics. However, 
both at that time and for years to come, progressive artists who advocated 
the supremacy of pictorial effect and the unrestrained use of colours looked 
on his manner as something retrograde. “Vallotton’s paintings are anti- 
picturesque,” Signac wrote in his diary in April 1 898. “This sensible young 
man is wrong in thinking that he is endowed with a talent for painting. He 
thinks that by employing a calculated and conservative technique he is 

imitating Holbein and Ingres, but he only succeeds in imitating 
Bouguereau’s worst pupils. The result is ungainly and unintelligent. 
However, Vallotton is undoubtedly endowed with intelligence and a sense 
of the beautiful, which is confirmed by his woodcuts.” 58 

Indeed, at first sight Vallotton’s paintings and woodcuts might have 
been executed by two different artists. His paintings are rather 
meticulous, whereas the woodcuts retain only the major details, with 
everything that is of minor importance absorbed by blackness. Yet they 
do have something in common: the immaculate draughtsmanship, the 
decorative and generalizing quality of line, which, according to the 
prominent early twentieth-century art critic Jacques Riviere, “enlaces” 
the form. Also, like the black patches in his woodcuts, colour in his 
paintings is distributed in extensive zones, within which the individual 
brushstroke, regarded as the main unit and measure of painterly activity, 
is scarcely detectable. Signac, who could not bear smoothness and “blew 
up” his surfaces with divided strokes, regarded Vallotton’s brushwork as 
the complete antithesis of his own style and, indeed, of everything that 
derived from Impressionism. But the young Swiss, who had arrived in 
Paris when the Impressionists were still striving for recognition, did not 
know them, or at least had no wish to do so. That was not because he was 
wholly “indoctrinated” by Jules Lefebvre, Bouguereau and Boulanger at 
the Academie Julian; in fact, he preferred going to the Louvre and 
making copies of Antonello da Messina, Leonardo da Vinci and Diirer. 
“I have been thinking about the Italian Primitivists, and particularly 
about those wonderful unknown artists in the German museums; those 
exquisite masters, whose brilliant ideas, put down on canvas in perfect 
form, have an immediate impact even today, four centuries later, yet they 
did not even think to sign their names for our benefit,” 59 Vallotton wrote 
in May 1893 in the Gazette de Lausanne, to which he contributed 
regularly. Not only did he practise journalism, but he was also the author 
of three novels and six plays. In Germany or Switzerland the kind of 
painting cultivated by Vallotton would probably have been recognized 
more easily. But even in Paris it gradually found supporters. From 1899 
onward Vallotton devoted most of his time to painting. His efforts were 
encouraged by his wife, Gabrielle Rodrigues-Henriques (nee Bernheim 
Jeune), a widow who had three children from her first marriage. 
Gabrielle was a good match, as well as being quite prosperous: she 
connected him with a major firm of art dealers. 

As a painter Vallotton was amazingly prolific. He compiled a list of 
1,587 of his paintings in the Livre de raison, which he kept from 1885 

♦ Maurice Denis, Sacred Spring in Guidel, 1905. Oil on canvas, 39 x 34.5 cm, Hermitage, St Petersburg. 



N A B I S 

♦ Felix Vallotton, The Dinner, 1900. Oil on cardboard, 55 x 86.8 cm, Kirov Regional Museum of Fine Art. 



♦ Felix Vallotton, Interior, 1903-1904. Oil on cardboard, 61.5 x 56 cm, Hermitage, St Petersburg. 



♦ Felix Vallotton, Portrait of Madame Haasen, 1908. Oil on canvas, 80 x 65 cm, Hermitage, St Petersburg. 

♦ Felix Vallotton, Woman with Black Hat, 1908. Oil on canvas, 81.3 x 65 cm, Hermitage, St Petersburg. 



N A B I S 

♦ Felix Vallotton, Portrait of Georges Haasen, 1913. Oil on canvas, 81.7 x 100.5 cm, Hermitage, St Petersburg. 



♦ Felix Vallotton, Lady at the Piano, 1904. Oil on canvas, 43.5 x 57 cm, Hermitage, St Petersburg. 



until his death (proof of his great methodicalness). Considering that 
there were nonetheless inevitable omissions, while sometimes the same 
entry covers several variants of a work and, above all, remembering his 
meticulous manner of execution, it must be conceded that Vallotton was 
an extraordinarily hard-working artist. 

Vallotton’s first efforts were limited to portraits, very conscientiously 
executed, painted from nature. Subsequently his range expanded with 
portraits decoratifs, usually invented, and portraits with genre elements. 
Vallotton’s portraiture of the 1890s often displays a tendency towards 
narrative, and he appears to have been a storyteller with keen insight, his 
irony usually bordering on the malicious. When he sets down his 
glimpses of Paris life on canvas, his paintings come to resemble 
woodcuts, for they treat similar subjects in an expressive, not to say 
Expressionistic, manner. They also reveal what united Vallotton with the 
rest of the Nabis: his compositional and decorative ingenuity. Concert 
( 1 895, Private Collection), for instance, is close to Bonnard’s work, even 
down to employing the same type of decorative motifs, though the 
Frenchman’s smile is superseded by the sarcasm of the Swiss. Vallotton’s 
genre paintings are for the most part set in an interior: he showed an 
obvious preference for closed spaces. In some portraits dating from the 
early years of the twentieth century the role of the interior is so 
significant that it is no longer a mere setting. At that time, the interior as 
subject matter in its own right captured the artist’s interest, though it was 
later superseded by female nudes and mythological and allegoric 
subjects. Vallotton never gave up portraiture and also would turn quite 
often to still life. The essence of Vallotton’s painting is splendidly 
revealed by his interiors: spick and span, motionless, nature morte in the 
literal sense of the word. The human figures are just as much material 
objects in these nature-morte interiors as the beds and the wardrobes. The 
mesmeric registration of objects, an almost judicially precise record of 
early twentieth-century life, seems to conceal a melancholy which is on 
the point of developing into a fatalistic indifference. Yet what Vallotton 
depicted was not somebody else’s life but his own, and the figures were 
people he himself was close to. The interior of his home in Paris found 
its way into a series of paintings conceived as modern versions of de 
Hooch or Janssen. However, the artist’s irony precludes the heartfelt 
warmth that cheered the work of the seventeenth-century Dutch masters. 
Jean Cassou saw one of the major traits of Vallotton’s nature as being the 
“bourgeois anarchism” which was most strikingly revealed in his literary 
activities. What Cassou said about Vallotton’s novels holds true for his 
interiors and many of his other pictures. “His novels do indeed give us 
the key. We discern mixed feelings in them: on the one hand, a bitter and 
grumbling spite towards bourgeois society, that is paltry, ridiculous and 
reactionary; on the other hand, a no less reactionary pleasure at 
belonging to it.” 60 Sarcasm is generally found where the human element 
is dominant. When Vallotton turns to landscape painting, he appears in a 
different light. Here he is at his most Nabi, his highly decorative effects 

♦ Felix Vallotton, The Visit, Interior blue sofa, 1899. Tempera on cardboard, 55 x 87 cm, Kunsthaus, Zurich. 




N A B I S 

♦ Felix Vallotton, The Taking of Europe, 1908. Oil on canvas, 
130 x 162 cm, Kunstmuseum, Bern. 




and stylistic allusions typical of all the members of the group. Vallotton’s attitude, 
however, still remains estranged. There is something of toy-land in his Landscape 
in Normandy, one of his best landscapes. Vallotton seems to hint, by employing 
this “playful” approach, that he is acquainted with Japanese art, but chooses to 
stick with the Europeans in his modelling, adding just a touch of Japanese 
flavour. He is alive to Cezanne’s work and even makes use of his “plunging 
perspective” method, with the foreground rather than the background 
dramatically foreshortened, but the spirit of the Cezanne landscape is alien to 
him: his neat little cows could not graze in it. What they need is a cultivated 
countryside. Vallotton was a rare type of professional, non-Salon artist: he did not 
shrink from banal, almost pastoral motifs, although he managed to do without the 
traditional shepherds and shepherdesses. He never shunned deliberately poetic 
motifs like a pink sunset, nor old-fashioned compositions with the emphasis on 
the middle. In this latter respect Landscape in Normandy is comparable with the 
works of the Barbizon school. A great museum-goer and frequenter of art exhi- 
bitions since his young days, Vallotton was able to use to his own end an 
intonation he caught, or a gesture he observed. This was not imitation — if it 
were so, there would not be the hints of parody — but a means of self-expression. 
In playing with a certain device, Vallotton was not afraid of looking old- 
fashioned and so becoming an object of ridicule. The keen sense of the present 
time, which he possessed to an exceptional extent, allowed him to transform a 
weary device. His Portrait of a Woman (Woman Wearing a Hat) is undoubtedly a 
parody, combining the almost uncombinable: the striking turn of the half-clothed 
figure and a plain, dull face topped with an elaborate flowery hat. The painter’s 
eye seems dispassionate, yet something personal comes across in his attitude to 
the woman. Annette Vaillant recollected that Vallotton’s Calvinist exterior 
concealed a strange Ingres-like sensuousness. 61 But the intimate effect of the 
portrait is extinguished by mockery, noticeable even in the range of colours, 
which is limited here and clearly imitates that of Salon journeyman painters. 

On the other hand, the portraits of Haasen and his wife demonstrate that 
Vallotton was capable, when he chose, of being a painter of gala portraits. His 
impartiality here is almost like that of a camera. Perhaps because these portraits 
were commissioned, he does not seem to want anything more than an outward 
likeness; not a single brushstroke betrays his attitude towards the model, nor, 
indeed, any attitude at all. It is significant that the background details in the portrait 
of Haasen are far more interesting artistically than the human figure. Vallotton’s 
art is indispensable for any student of life in that period: the accuracy of his details 
never needs to be questioned; the design, mood and, with rare exception, bitter 
astringency of his work set him apart not only among the Nabis but among other 
contemporaries too. His deliberate objectivity and emphatically dispassionate 
observation expressed in meticulous draughtsmanship and inexpressive texture 
link him not only with the Naturalism of the nineteenth century, but also with the 
tendencies of the twentieth. It is natural, therefore, that public interest in his work 
has tended to grow whenever there was a turn towards the concrete, material 
aspect in the arts, be it the 1920s, with their renewed materialism, or the 1970s, 
with their hyper-realism and other semi-naturalistic trends. 

♦ Felix Vallotton, Sleep, 1908. Oil on canvas, 113.5 x 162.5 cm, Musee d’Art 
et d’Histoire, Geneva. 




1867 Pierre Bonnard is born at Fontenay-aux-Roses near Paris. 

1875 Enters the secondary school at Vanves, later attends the Lycees 
Louis-le-Grand and Charlemagne. Spends his summers at Grand- 
Lemps in the Dauphine. 

1886 Enters the Law Faculty of Paris University. 

1887 Begins to study painting at the Academie Julian where he meets 
Paul Serusier, Maurice Denis, Paul Ranson and ibels. 

1888 Leaves the University and enters the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. 

1 890 The exhibition of Japanese prints arranged at the Ecole des Beaux- 
Arts makes a deep impression on Bonnard. 

1891 Shares a workshop with Vuillard and Denis in the Rue Pigalle. 
Through Denis he becomes acquainted with Lugne-Poe, Andre 
Antoine and Paul Fort; works for the theatre. Enjoys his first suc- 
cess with the poster France-Champagne. Exhibits at the Salon des 
Independants and at the Le Bare de Boutteville Gallery. 

1892 Turns to lithography. Is noted by such well-known art critics as 
Albert Aurier, Gustave Geffroy and Roger-Marx. 

1893 Becomes acquainted with Marthe (Maria Boursin). Produces litho- 
graphs for the Petites Scenes Familieres and the Petit Solfege by 
Claude Terrasse. 

1896 First one-man show at the Durand-Ruel Gallery. Together with 
Vuillard and Maillol accepts an invitation to take part in the exhi- 
bition "La Libre Esthetique" in Brussels. Illustrates the novel Marie 
by Peter Nansen, published in the Revue Blanche. 

1899 Vollard publishes an album of Bonnard's colour lithographs enti- 
tled Quelques aspects de la vie de Paris. Works on a large series of 
lithographs for Paul Verlaine's book of poems Parallelement. 

1900 Exhibits together with the other Nabis at the Bernheim-Jeune 
Gallery. Works in Paris and its environs: Montval, I'Etang-la-Ville, 
Vernouillet and Medan. 

1902 Produces 156 lithographs for Longus's tale Daphnis and Chloe. 
Takes part in the Bernheim-Jeune exhibition. In the summer works 
in Colleville. 

1 904 Works at I'Etang-la-Ville and Varengeville. Illustrates Jules Renard's 
FUstoires natu relies. 

1905 Produces a series of nudes and portraits. Visits Spain. 

1906 Exhibits landscapes and interiors at the Vollard Gallery. One-man 
show at the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery. In the summer sails on Misia 
Edwards' yacht to Belgium and Holland. 

1908 Visits Italy, Algeria, Tunisia and Britain. Illustrates 628-E-8 by 
Octave Mirbeau. 

1909 Works in Medan. In June goes to Saint-Tropez to visit Manguin. 

1910 Works in the south where he regularly sees Signac and Renoir. 

191 1 Paints the triptych Mediterranean and the panels Morning in Paris 
and Evening in Paris commissioned by Ivan Morozov. 

1912 Buys "Ma Roulotte", a small villa in Vernonnet, not far from 
Giverny. Often sees Claude Monet. 

1913 Visits Hamburg together with Vuillard. 

1916 Works on a series of large panels for the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery. 
In November goes on a trip to Winterthur. 

1918 The Jeune Peinture Frangaise society elects Bonnard and Renoir as 
honorary chairmen. 

1919 Fosca and Werth publish the first books devoted to Bonnard. 

1925 Buys a small house at Le Cannet. Officially marries Marthe. 

1926 Travels to the United States to act as a member of the Carnegie 
Prize jury. 

1936 Receives a Carnegie Prize for the second time (first award in 

1939 Settles at Le Cannet. 

1942 Marthe Bonnard dies. 

1947 Pierre Bonnard dies at Le Cannet. 




1867 Ker Xavier Roussel born at Chene, near Lorry-les-Metz. 

1870 The Roussels move to Paris. 

1878 At the Lycee Condorcet, where he meets Vuillard and, later 
(1882), Denis. 

1886 Studies under Maillard. 

1888 At the Academie Julian. Friendship with Serusier, Ibels, Ranson 
and Bonnard. Their circle joined by Vuillard and Denis. 

1891 Participates with Bonnard and Vuillard in the first exhibition at 
the Le Bare de Boutteville Gallery. 

1 893 Marriage to Vuillard's sister. 

1 895 Like Vuillard, frequently visits Thadee Natanson at Valvins. 

1 896 Vollard commissions from Roussel a series of lithographs, Album 
du Paysage, on which he works between 1897 and 1899. 

1899 Trip to Venice with Vuillard and Bonnard. All three exhibit at the 
Bernheim-Jeune Gallery (until 1914, on a regular basis). 
Eventually settles down at I'Etang-la-Ville. 

1 900 Acquires his own manner of painting with a picturesque and free 
treatment of allegorical and mythological subjects. 

1901 First exhibits at the Salon des Independants. 

1902 Trip to Holland with Vuillard and the Hessels. 

1 902-1 4Spends most summers in Normandy. 

1904 First exhibits at the Salon d'Automne. 

1906 Teaching at the Academie Ranson. Joins Denis in visits to 
Cezanne at Aix and Cross at Saint-Clair. 

1909 Produces decorative panels for the Bernheims and Lugne-Poe. 

1912 Roussel-Rodin exhibition at the Giroux Gallery, Brussels. 

1913 Designs curtain for the Theatre de la Comedie des Champs- 

1915 Convalescing in Switzerland. Friendship with the art collector 
Hahnloser and his family. Commissioned by the Art Museum in 
Winterthur to paint two decorative panels. 

1925 Paints decorative panels for Lucien Rosengart. 

1926 Wins the Carnegie Prize. 

1930 Makes numerous lithographs. Vollard's studio at his disposal. 
1932 Illustrates Poems by Maurice de Guerin. 

1936 Begins the panel Pax Nutrix for the Palace of Nations, Geneva. 

1937 Panel Dance for the Palais Chaillot, Paris. 

1 939 Goes to Geneva with Vuillard to complete the panel at the Palace 
of Nations. 

1944 Roussel dies at I'Etang-la-Ville. 




1870 Denis born at Granville. 

1882 Enters the Lycee Condorcet, where he meets Vuillard, Roussel and 

1884 Takes drawing lessons from Zani. Copies the Old Masters at the 
Louvre. Tries writing poetry. Begins keeping a diary. 

1885 Shows a preference for Fra Angelico. 

1887 Profoundly impressed by Puvis de Chavannes' exhibition. 

1888 Enters the Academie Julian. Friendship with Serusier, Bonnard, 
Ibels, Ranson, Roussel and Vuillard, who unite to become an 
artistic group. Admitted to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, class of Jules 
Lefebvre and Lucien Doucet. 

1 889 Meets Redon. Influenced by Gauguin's exhibition at the Cafe Volpini. 

1890 First exhibits at the Salon. Contributes an article to the Art et 
Critique, which is to become the Nabis' manifesto. 

1891 Shares a studio with Bonnard, Vuillard and Lugne-Poe. Exhibits at 
the Salon des Independants. Meets Pissarro, Valery, Debussy, 
Chausson. Designs stage-sets and costumes for productions of 
plays by Remy de Gourmont and Dujardin. 

1892 Meets Andre Gide. Publishes articles on contemporary painting. 

1893 Marries Marthe Meurier. Makes a set of lithographs to illustrate Le 
Voyage d'Urien by Andre Gide. Settles down at Saint-Germain-en- 

1895 Writes a preface to the catalogue of the Impressionist and 
Symbolist exhibition at Le Bare de Boutteville's Gallery. Autumn: 
first visit to Italy; cycling with Serusier through Tuscany and 
Umbria. Paints a frieze of 7 panels, Love and the Life of a Woman, 
for the bedroom of his own house. 

1897 Second trip to Italy. Stays with the composer Chausson in 
Florence. Paints a series of panels for Denys Cochin. 

1898 Works on a ceiling painting in Madame Chausson's house (Terrace 
in Fiesole). Becomes a member of the Societe Nationale des Beaux- 
Arts . 

1899 Trip to Pont-Aven and Le Pouldu. Makes a series of 12 lithographs 
for Vollard and decorates the Chapel of the College of the Holy 
Cross at Vesinet. (The Worship of the Holy Cross) 

1901 Participates in "La Libre Esthetique" exhibition in Brussels. Degas 
shows him his collection of Ingres' paintings. Designs stained-glass 
windows for the church at Vesinet. 

1903 Member of the Committee at the Salon des Independants. Visits 
Verkade in the Convent of Beuron. Verkade, Serusier and Denis 
discuss art and aesthetics. Vollard publishes The Imitation of 
Christ, a 216-piece series of Denis' lithographs. 

1 904 Another trip to Italy. Publishes numerous articles on art. First one- 
man show at the Druet Gallery (preface to the catalogue written 
by Andre Gide). 

1905 Trip to Spain. In Pont-Aven purchases Gauguins and Bernards. 
Articles on Maillol and Gauguin. 

1906 Joins Roussel for a journey to Provence to visit Cezanne, Cross, 
Signac and Renoir. Makes five decorative panels for 
Mutzenbecker's house in Wiesbaden. (The Eternal Summer) 

1908 Purchases the "Silencio" estate at Perros-Guirec; subsequently 
spends his summer months there. Teaches at the Academie 
Ranson. Paints five panels of the Legend of Psyche series for Ivan 
Morozov and a decorative ensemble The Eternal Spring for Gabriel 
Thomas' dining-room at Bellevue. 

1909 Visits Moscow with his wife. Another panel of the Legend of 
Psyche series. 

1910 One-man show in London. The Florentine Evening series inspired 
by Boccaccio's Decameron. 

1912 Sets of panels for the Theatre des Champs-Elysees (The History of 
Music) and for the Prince of Wagram (The Golden Age). Denis's 
articles published in a separate volume under the title Theories. 

1914 Purchases the Priory, an ancient hospital building, in Saint- 
Germain-en-Laye. Visits Italy to complete illustrations for The Life 
of Saint Dominic. 

1919 Denis and Georges Desvallieres organize the Ateliers d'Art Sacre. 
Death of Marthe Denis. 

1922 One-man show in Venice. Publishes Nouvelles Theories sur Tart 
moderne et fart sacre. 

1927 Trip to the USA at the invitation of the Carnegie Institute. 

1932 Elected member of the Institut de France. 

1937 Works on panels for the Palace of Nations, Geneva. 

1943 Run over by a car, Denis dies on the way to hospital. 




1868 Edouard Vuillard born into the family of a retired colonial army 
officer in Cuiseaux, Saone et Loire. 

1878 The Vuillards return to Paris. Edouard attends the Ecole Rocroy 
Saint-Leon, then the Lycee Condorcet. 

Friendship with Roussel. Meets Denis and Lugne-Poe. 

1884 Death of Vuillard's father. Mother runs a dressmaker's business 
to support the family. 

1887 At Roussel's instigation, refuses to enter the Saint-Cyr Military 
College, joins his friend instead at Maillart's studio. 

1888 Short period at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts (Genome's class), then 
attends the Academie Julian together with Roussel. Friendship 
with Bonnard, then Ranson, Serusier and Denis. All dissatisfied 
with Bouguereau's teaching methods at the Academie Julian. 

1889 Impressed by Gauguin's paintings at the "Peintres Symbolistes 
et Synthetistes" exhibition in the Cafe Volpini. 

1891 Shares studio in the Rue Pigalle with Bonnard and Denis. 

1892 Paints first decorative panels for Desmarais. 

1 893 Designs scenery for the Theatre de I'oeuvre founded by 

1894 Paints nine panels featuring parks of Paris for Alexandre 
Natanson, the publisher of the Revue Blanche. 

1895 Pays visit to Mallarme. At the Salon, Tiffany exhibits a series of 
stained-glass panels, one of them of Vuillard's design. 

1896 Makes four large-scale panels for the drawing-room of his 
friend Vaquez. Invited to exhibit with Bonnard and Toulouse- 
Lautrec at the "Libre Esthetique" show in Brussels. 
Commissioned by Vollard to make an album of lithographs to 
be published within two years. 

1898 Panels for novelist Claude Anet. 

1899 Summer: at Le Cannet with the Natansons. Visits Venice with 
Bonnard and Roussel. Exhibits with Bonnard at the Bernheim- 
Jeune Gallery until 1914. 

1900 In Romanel, Switzerland, meets Madame Jos Hessel, his future 
patroness, at Vallotton's. 

1901 First exhibits at the Salon des Independants. 

1902 Joins the Hessels for a trip to Holland. Stays with them in 
Normandy throughout summer. 

1905 Visits Spain with Bonnard. 

1906 Teaches at the Academie Ranson. 

1909 Panels for the Bernheim brothers and Lugne-Poe. 

1913 Decorates foyer of the Theatre des Champs-Elysees. Visits 
Hamburg and Berlin with Bonnard. 

1914 Mobilized at the outbreak of war. 

1916 Military painter at Gerardmer. 

1917-24 Lives and works alternatively in Paris and at the Hessels' in 

1928 Vuillard's mother dies. 

1930 In Spain with the Hessels and Jean Laroche. 

1936 Co-operates with Denis and Roussel on panels for the Palace of 
Nations, Geneva. (Peace Protecting the Muses) 

1937 Elected member of the Institut de France. Paints panels for the 
Palais de Chaillot. 

1938 Retrospective at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris. 

1940 Leaves Paris after Nazi invasion. Dies at La Baule. 




1865 Felix Vallotton born into the family of a petty tradesman in 

1875 At the College Cantonal, Lausanne. Studies drawing under 
Jean-Samson Guignard. Discovers Swiss artists Anker, Calame 
and Gleyre at the local museum 

1882 Moves to Paris. At the Academie Julian, Jules Lefebvre's class. 

1885 First exhibits at the Salon. 

1886 Vallotton's portraiture wins an honourable mention at the 
Salon. He earns his keep by making engraved copies of the Old 

1887 Copying Renaissance artists at the Louvre. 

1889 Vallotton's engravings shown in the Swiss pavilion at the Paris 
World Fair. Friendship with Toulouse-Lautrec, Cottet, Vuillard. 

1891 Contributes to the Gazette de Lausanne as an art critic. Tries 
making woodcuts, developing his own stark style. Begins 
contributing to the Revue Blanche; becomes friendly with the 
painters and writers associated with that periodical. 

1892 Joins the Nabis. 

1893 Makes a set of lithographs, Immortels passes presents ou 
futurs. His Bathers on a Summer Evening causes a scandal at 
the Salon des Independants. Meets Maillol. Exhibits with the 
Nabis at the Le Bare de Boutteville Gallery. Contributes to the 
London-based magazine Studio. Visits Belgium and Holland. 

1895 Contributes to periodicals: Pan (Berlin), Chap Book (Chicago) 
and Ord och Bild (Stockholm). 

1897 Becomes close to Vuillard, Bonnard, Ranson and the other 
Nabis. Exhibits at the Vollard Gallery. 

1898 Set of woodcuts Intimites. Meier-Graefe publishes a book on 
Vallotton in Germany and in France. 

1899 Marriage to Gabrielle Rodrigues-Henriques, nee Bernheim- 
Jeune. Establishes close contacts with the Bernheim-Jeune 
Gallery. In summer: works in Normandy and Brittany. 

1900 Becomes a French citizen. In summer: works at the Chateau 
Romanel near Lausanne. 

1 901 Stays in Le Cannet (with the Natansons), Marseilles and Honfleur. 

1903 Exhibits at the Salon d'Automne and at the Secession in 
Vienna. Works at Arc-la-Bataille. 

1904 Works in Varengeville. Besides painting and woodcuts, tries his 
hand at sculpture. 

1907 Writes the novel La Vie meurtriere, the keenest expression of 
his pessimism. Vallotton's play Un Rien produced by the 
Theatre de I'CEuvre; another play, L'Homme fort, to be put on 
the following year at the Theatre du Grand Guignol. 

1908 Teaches at the Academie Ranson. 

1909 First one-man show in Zurich, displaying 75 works (girls under 
1 6 are not allowed in). 

1910 One-man show at the Druet Gallery, Paris; preface to the 
catalogue written by Vallotton's friend Octave Mirbeau. 

1911 Sunsets series. 

1913 Trips to St Petersburg and Moscow, then to Italy. 

1915 C'est la guerre, a series of anti-war woodcuts. 

1918 Works in Honfleur. 

1 920 Feels despondent notwithstanding the success of his post-war 
exhibitions. After the war he paints mostly landscapes, as well 
as still lifes and self-portraits. 

1922 Works in Cagnes-sur-Mer. 

1924 Works in Cagnes-sur-Mer, Vence and Deauville. Paints 
landscapes of Brittany, Normandy, the Dordogne and the Loire. 
Illustrates Hervier and Flaubert. 

1925 Dies in Paris. 



1 Ch. Zervos, Pierre Bonnard, est-il un grand peintre?, Cahiers d'Art, 
1947, p. 1 

2 A. Terrasse, Matisse et Bonnard : quarante ans d'amitie, Revue de 
I 'Art, 1984, p. 64 

3 Perucchi-Petri, Das Figurenbild in Bonnards Nabis-Zeit, in Pierre 
Bonnard, Zurich, 1984, p. 42 

4 Th. Natanson, Le Bonnard que je propose, Geneva, 1951, pp. 16, 17 
5 A. Terrasse, Bonnard, Geneva, 1964, p. 24 
6 Dom W. Verkade, Le Tourment de Dieu, Paris, 1926, p. 80 
7 A. Benois, My Reminiscences, vol. I, Moscow, 1980, p. 154 (in 

8 Th. Natanson, op. cit., p. 100 
9 A. Benois, op. cit., p. 154 
,0 Th. Natanson, op. cit., p. 24 

11 H. Matisse, Ecrits et propos sur Fart, Paris, 972, p. 304 
"Letter to Pierre Courthion (P Courthion, Impromptus — Pierre 
Bonnard, in: Les Nouvelles Litteraires, 24 June. 1933) 

"See J. and H. Dauberville, Bonnards. Catalogue raisonne de I'oeuvre 
peint, Paris, 1965-74, vols 1-4; F. Bouvet, Bonnard. L'CEuvre grave, 
Paris, 1981; C. Roger-Marx, Bonnard lithographe, Monte-Carlo, 

14 H. Matisse, op. cit., p. 83 

15 A Terrasse, Pierre Bonnard Paris, 1967, p. 10 

w Ibid., p.23 

17 A. Terrasse, Pierre Bonnard, p. 44 
18 Th. Natanson, op. cit., p. 170 

"Quoted from: A. Terrasse, Bonnard, Geneva, 1964, p. 40 
“Quoted from: J. Bouret, Bonnard. Seductions, Lausanne, 1967. p. 26 

21 A. Terrasse, Pierre Bonnard, Paris, 1967, p. 94 

22 R. Cogniat, Pierre Bonnard ou le Miroir magique in: Pierre Bonnard, 
Geneva, 1981 

23 Th. Natanson, op. cit., p. 104 

24 A. Terrasse, Pierre Bonnard, Paris, 1967, p. 1 1 

25 A. Terrasse, Pierre Bonnard, Paris, 1967 

26 A. Vaillant, Bonnard, London, 1966, p. 113 

27 Bonnord and his Environment, New York, 1966, p. 1 1 
28 Th. Natanson, op. cit., p. 87 

29 M. Denis, Theories. 1890-1911, Paris, 1913, p. 162 

31 Le Symbolisme en Europe. Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-von 
Beuningen. Bruxelles, Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts de 
Belgique. Baden-Baden, Staatliche Kunsthalle. Paris, Grand Palais, 
Paris, 1976 

32 Nobis und Fouves. Zeichnungen, Aquarelle, Pastelle aus Schweizer 
Privatbesitz. Kunsthaus Zurich. Kunsthaus Bremen. 
KunsthalleBielefeld, Zurich, 1982 

33 B. Dorival, Les Peintres du XXe siecle, Paris, 1957, p. 16 

34 Ibid., p. 17 

35 A. Terrasse, Bonnard, Geneva 1964, p. 54 

36 Bonnard. Musee de Lyon. Exhibition Catalogue, Lyons, 1954 

37 M. Denis, Journal, vol. I, Paris, 1957, p. 67 

38 A. S. Golubkina, Letters. A Few Words on the Sculptor's Profession. 
Reminiscences of Contemporaries, Moscow, 1983, p. 79 (In 

39 M. Denis, Preface du catalogue L'Ecole de Pont-A yen et les Nabis. 
1888-1908. Galerie Parville, Paris, 1943, p. 3 

40 V. F Khodasevich, Necropolis. Reminiscences, Paris, 1976, 
pp. 10, 1 1 (in Russian) 

41 Extraits du journal inedit de Paul Signac. 1897-1898, 

Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 1952, April, pp. 276, 277 

42 M. Denis, Journal, vol. I (1884-1904), Paris, p. 137 

43 Edouard Vuillard, K. X. Roussel, Orangerie des Tuileries, Paris, 1968, 
p. 23 

44 A. Aurier, Les Symbolistes, Revue Encyclopedique, Paris, 1892, no.1, 

45 G. Geffroy, La Vie artistique, 2 e serie, Paris, 1893, p. 382 

46 J. Salomon, Vuillard, Paris, 1968, p. 29 

47 Vente Thadee Natanson a I'Hdtel Drouot (preface by Octave 
Mirbeau), Paris, 1908 

48 Les Mardis, Stephane Mallarme and the Artists of his Circle, 

The University of Kansas Museum of Art, 1966, p. 44 

49 M. Denis, Journal, vol. 1 (1884-1904), Paris, p. 143 

50 Dorn W. Verkade, Le Tourment de Dieu, Paris, 1926, p. 78 

51 M. Denis, Journal, vol. 1 (1884-1904), Paris, 1957, p. 59 

52 M. Denis, Theories. 1890-1910, Paris, 1913, p.1 

53 M. Denis, Serusier, sa vie, son oeuvre, Paris, 1943, p. 64 

54 M. Denis, Journal, vol. 1, p. 67 

55 M. Denis, Theories, p. 251 

56 M, Denis, Journal, vol. 3, Paris, 1959. p. 214 

57 Ch. Chasse, Les Nabis et leur temps, Lausanne-Paris, 1960 

58 Extraits du journal inedit de Paul Signac. 1897-1898. Gazette des 
Beaux-Arts, 1952, April, p. 280 

59 Gazette de Lausanne, 4 May 1 893 

60 J. Cassou, Panorama des arts plastiques contemporains, Paris, 1960, 
p. 65 

61 A. Vaillant, Bonnard, London, 1966. p. 109 



S. Barazzetti-Demoulin, Maurice Denis, Paris, 1945 


A. Barskaya, M. Bessonova, Impressionists and Post-Impressionists in Soviet Museums, Leningrad, 1985 (in Russian) 


N. Brodskaya, Felix Vallotton et la Russie, Lausanne, Galerie Paul 1986 

Catalogue ofS. I. Shchukin’s Collection, Moscow, 1913 (in Russian) 


Catalogue of the Municipal Gallery of the Brothers Pavel and Sergei Tretyakov, Moscow, 1917 (in Russian) 


Museum of New Western Art. Illustrated Catalogue, Moscow, 1928 (in Russian) 


The Hermitage. Department of Western European Art: Catalogue of Painting, Leningrad-Moscow, 1958, vol. I (in Russian) 

The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts: Catalogue of the Picture Gallery. Painting, Sculpture, Moscow, 1961 (in Russian) 


The Hermitage. Western European Painting. Catalogue. I: Italy, Spain, France, Switzerland, Leningrad, 1976 (in Russian) 


The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts: Catalogue of the Picture Gallery. Painting, Sculpture, Miniature Painting, Moscow, 1986 (in Russian) 


G. Coquiot, Bonnard, Paris, 1922 

DAUBERVILLE (or D) 1965; 1968) 

Jean et Elenri Dauberville, Bonnard. L'CEuvre peint, Paris, 1965-74, 4 vols 
DENIS 1957; 1959 

M. Denis, Journal, vol. 1 (1884-1904), vol. 2 (1905-1920), Paris, 1957, vol. 3 (1921-1943), Paris, 1959 

P Descargues, Le Musee de l Ermitage, Paris, 1961 


The Hermitage, Leningrad. French 20th-century Masters 

(introduction by A. N. Izerghina, notes by A. G. Barskaya, B. A. Zernov), Prague, 1970 


French Painting from the Pushkin Museum, Leningrad, 1979 


H. Hahnloser-Biihler, Felix Vallotton et ses amis, Paris, 1936 

French Painting from the Hermitage.Leningrad. Mid- 19th to Early 20th Century 
(introduction by A. Izerghina, selection and notes on the plates by A. Barskaya), Leningrad, 1975 


N. Kalitina, French Landscape Painting. 1870-1970, Leningrad, 1972 (in Russian) 



A. Kostenevich, French Art of the 19th to Early 20th Century in the Hermitage (guidebook), Leningrad, 1984 (in Russian) 


A. Kostenevich, Western European Painting in the Hermitage: 19th-20th Centuries, Leningrad, 1987 

A. Kostenevich, From Monet to Picasso. French Painting from the Late 19th to Early 20th Centuries in the Hermitage, Leningrad, 1989 (in Russian) 

S. Makovsky, French Painters from I .A. Morozov’s Collection, Apollon, St Petersburg, 1912, nos 3, 4 (in Russian) 


A. Mithouard, Maurice Denis, Art et Decoration, 1907, July-December 

P. Muratov, The Shchukin Gallery: An Essay on the History of New Painting, Russkaya mysl', Moscow, 1908, no. 8 (in Russian) 

REAU 1929 

L. Reau, Catalogue de l ’art frangais dans les musees russes, Paris, 1929 
SEGARD 1914 

A. Segard, Peintres d’aujourd’hui. Les Decorateurs, Paris, 1914 

C. Sterling, Musee de I’Ermitage. La Peinture frangaise de Poussin a nos jours, Paris, 1957 

B. Ternovets, Letters. Diaries. Essays, Moscow, 1977 (in Russian) 


C. Terrasse, Bonnard, Paris, 1927 


A. Terrasse, Pierre Bonnard, Paris, 1967 

Ya. Tugendhold, The French Collection ofS. I. Shchukin, Apollon, St Petersburg, 1914, nos 1, 2 (in Russian) 


Ya. Tugendhold, The First Museum of New Western Painting, Moscow, 1923 (in Russian) 


F. Vallotton, Documents pour une biographie et pour I’histoire d’une oeuvre. Introduction, 
selection and notes by Gilbert Gaison and Doris Jacubec, Lausanne-Paris, 1974, vol.2 (1900-1914) 


Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. The Hermitage, Leningrad. The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. Moscow. 

National Gallery of Art, Washington. Introductions by Marina Bessonova and William James Williams. 

Selection by Marina Bessonova, William James Williams and Albert Kostenevich, Leningrad-New York, 1986 


N.Y. Yavorskaya, Pierre Bonnard, Moscow, 1972 (in Russian) 



Article by Christian Zervos, Cahiers d'Art p. 7 

Bonnard around 1890 p. 6 

Edouard Vuillard p.201 

Felix Vallotton p.202 

Ker Xavier Roussel p. 1 99 

Denis, Self-Portrait p.200 


A Barracks Scene p.33 

A Corner of Paris p.67 

Almond Tree in Bloom p.57 

Andree Bonnard with her Dogs p.9 

At the Park p.62 

Autumn Morning or The Grand View of Vernon p. 1 07 

Balcony at Vernonnet p. 1 38 

The Bathroom Mirror p.72 

Behind the fence p.60 

Bonnard with Marthe (centre) and Suzanne Bernheim 
de Villers p.29 

Breakfast by the Radiator p. 1 34 

Breakfast Room in the Country p. 1 23 

The Breakfast Room p. 5 1 

The Bridge p. 1 5 

Cannet Landscape p.103 

The Chequered Blouse p.30 

The Cherry Tart p.146 

Child Eating Cherries p.37 

The Children's Lunch p. 1 7 

The Circus Horse p.53 

The Cote d'Azur p. 1 41 

Cottages at Cannet p.83 

The Croquet Game p.8 

The Descent to Cannet p.54 

The Dressing Gown p.25 

The Dressing Table with a bunch of Red and 
Yellow Flowers p.73 

The Family in the Garden p. 1 02 

Early Spring p.78 

Early Spring in the Countryside p.101 

Family Scene p.31 

Fiacre p.1 18 

Flower-Seller p.95 

France-Champagne p.10 

The Garden p.1 54 

The Gardener p.1 26 

The Grands Boulevards p.69 

The Grand-Lemps, autumn p.1 06 

In the Bathroom p.74 

Josse Bernheim-Jeune and Gaston Bernheim de Villiers p.1 30 

La Promenade p.45 

La Revue Blanche p.1 1 

Landscape at Le Cannet, View Over the Roof-tops p.55 

The Life of the painter p. 1 4 

The Little Laundry Girl p.1 6 

Man and Woman p.24 

Mediterranean p.97 

Misia p.35 

Misia with Roses p.1 16 

Normandy Landscape p.1 25 

Nude Against the Light p.40 

Nude with Black Stockings p.22 

Nursemaids' Promenade, Frieze of Carriages p.26-27 

On the way to school p.68 

The Parade Ground p.32 

The People's Square in Rome p.43 

Place Clichy or The Green Tram p.90 

Place Clichy or The Two Elegant Ladies p.9 1 

Place Clichy p.94 

Pleasure p.110 

The Pont du Carrousel p.1 19 

The Port of Cannes p.1 49 

Port Trouville p.1 55 

Portrait of Berthe Schaedlin p. 1 2 

The Provincial Pot p.50 

The Red Garters p.1 9 

Reflection in the Mirror p.75 

Sailing (The Hahnloser Family) p.1 29 

Self-Portrait p.1 3 

The Siesta p.21 

Sombre Nude p.52 

Sunny Landscape, village in the background p.79 

Tea in the Garden p.1 35 

The Terrace at Grasse p.111 

The Terrace at Vernon p.48-49 

The Terrasse Family (L'apres-midi bourgeoise) p.1 8 

The Tugboat on the Seine p.28 

Tugboat at Vernon p.82 

View of Saint-Tropez or The Alley p.99 

The Window, 1925 p.1 48 

Woman in the Garden (panel 1, 2, 3, 4) p.46-47 

Woman with Dog p.63 



Woman with Parrot 



The Yellow Boat 


Composition with a Skull 

Young Woman Seated on a Chaise longue 




The Tiger 

A Paris Street in the Rain 




In the Snow (Training the Dog) 

Mont Sainte-Victoire 


Mythomogical Subject 

The Triumph of Bacchus (Rural Festival) 


The Triumph of Ceres (Rural Festival) 

The Poor Fisherman 




Bretons Wrestlers 

Mister Perrot's Dance Lesson 


The Talisman 



Bacchus and Ariadne 

Decoration for the chapel of the College Sainte-Croix 


Portrait of Doctor Paul Gachet 

du Vesinet. Right hand panel with angels and altarboys p. 1 83 


The Encounter. 


A Port 

Figures in a Springtime Landscape 


Afternoon Landscape 

The Flying Cupid is Struck by Psyche's Beauty 


The Dinner 

Homage to Cezanne 



Martha and Mary 

p. 1 20-121 

Lady at the Piano 

Mother and Child 


Landscape at Rocamadour 

The Muse 


Landscape at sunset 



Outskirts of Lausanne 

Portrait of Marthe the Artist's Wife 

p . 1 76 

Portrait of Georges Haasen 

Sacred Spring in Guidel 


Portrait of Madame Haasen 

Sheperds (The Green Seashore) 

p. 1 80-181 


The Wedding Procession 

p. 1 72-173 

The Taking of Europe 
The Visit, Interior blue sofa 


View of Cagne from horseback 

Cafe at Arles 


Woman with Black Hat 

Nave nave moe, sacred springs or Sweet Dreams 




Chapel in Versailles 

At the Circus 


At the Window (Interior. Woman at the Window) 


In the Garden 



In the Room 

On the Sofa (In the White Room) 


The Room 

The Dance 


Three Panels from "Jardins Publics": Public Gardens; 

The Red Room 


the Nursemaid; The Red Parasol 




















p. 1 96-1 97 
p. 1 94-1 95 
p. 1 92-1 93 







p. 1 62-1 63 


P ierre Bonnard was the leader of a group of post-impressionist painters who 
called themselves the Nabis, from the Hebrew word meaning ‘prophet’. 
Bonnard, Vuillard, Roussel and Denis, the most distinguished of the Nabis, 
revolutionized the spirit of decorative techniques during one of the richest periods 
in the history of French painting. Influenced by Odilon Redon and Puvis de 
Chavannes, as well as by popular imagery and Japanese etchings, this post- 
impressionist group was, above all, a close circle of friends who shared the same 
cultural background and interests. An increasing individualism in their art often 
threatened the group’s unity, and although tied together by a common philosophy, 
their work clearly diverged. This publication lets us compare and put into 
perspective the artists within this fascinating group. 

The works presented in this collection offer a palette of extraordinary poetic 
expressions: candid in Bonnard, ornamental and mysterious in Vuillard, gently 
dream-like in Denis, grim and almost bitter in Vallotton. The author shares with us 
the lives of these artists to the very source of their creative gifts.